Southampton away, eh? If we aren’t getting beat 8-0 we’re conceding deflating late equalisers. In three of our last four encounters at St. Mary’s we have took the lead only to be pegged back in the last five minutes by a sloppy equaliser.
Yesterday, it was Jordan Pickford’s turn to shoulder much of the blame for the Saints late leveller. Of course, Rodriquez should have been closed down much better but Pickford will be the first to take responsibility for the shot squirming underneath him. The error led some to call for us to step up our interest in Joe Hart or another high calibre stopper, but to do so would be both a waste of resources and an insult to the Washington born Keeper.
Despite much media talk, the signing of Joe Hart is unlikely to happen for a number of reasons. Most importantly, our transfer business this window would point to the club not having much money to spend on players. Therefore, even though Man City have indicated a willingness to pay a significant portion of Hart’s wages, they are still demanding a loan fee of £7million which could be spent much better elsewhere. This is before you even consider that Hart probably wouldn’t want to swap Champions League football for a relegation battle, anyway.
In light of Pickford’s mistake some fans took to social media to highlight his lack of experience and suggest that he isn’t ready for Premier League football. Personally, I find comments like these slightly patronising. Despite only being 22 he has played 126 competitive matches, including a loan spell at Preston where he kept a club record equalling six clean sheets and won rave reviews for his shot stopping, command of his area and distribution. Just this summer he was linked with Manchester United and is widely tipped to be England’s number one. So why, when he clearly has so much talent would we consider replacing him after just one game? In his career he has made mistakes and proven he can bounce back from them, this is part and parcel of being a goalkeeper.
Despite being at fault for Southampton’s goal yesterday, Pickford has already demonstrated his quality in a Sunderland shirt this season. As well as generally impressing on the south coast, he played a major part in our victory over Shrewsbury, he showed impressive command of his area throughout, made a crucial save and started our attack for the winner by expertly picking out Duncan Watmore before Januazaj eventually fired home. Although some would argue he should standout against lower league opposition, both the save and the pass were impressive by any standards. Wednesday’s performance was far from an isolated incident, and his distribution could prove a vital asset in turning defence into attack.
Even though Mannone is out for the foreseeable future, he will be determined to prove himself as number one when he returns from injury and will place enough competition on Pickford to succeed without the need to bring in a keeper of Hart’s calibre. If such a keeper were to sign what would happen then? Would Pickford be relegated to second, or even third choice upon Mannone’s return? If this were to be the case it would severely dent the confidence of the young Wearsider and it would be a waste of his undoubted potential.
To take some of the burden of expectation off his shoulders it would be wise to sign a cheap, reliable goalkeeper in case Pickford has a sustained poor run of form or an injury. However, after biding his time Pickford now has a great opportunity to make the number one spot his own and we must back him to do so and have faith in his ability.