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Pickford set for Everton return; Catts due back for Boro; Lens strops & 3 other things we're talking about

In this evening's news update: Jordan Pickford has declared he expects to be ready for Sunderland's next game against Everton - surely he is set to reclaim his place from Vito Mannone? Lee Cattermole may be due back for next month's trip to Middlesbrough; Patrick van Aanholt had another poor game for his new side on Saturday; Two players pick up awards; Jeremain Lens throws another strop & the new Academy manager is confirmed.

Stoke City v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Pickford "Ready for Everton"

Goalkeeper, Jordan Pickford, says he expects to be in the squad for Sunderland's next game at Everton a week on Saturday.

Speaking to the Sunderland Echo at last night's North East Football Writer's Association Awards, the 22-year-old said:

I've had a good six to eight weeks off but I've been working really hard in the gym and getting my knee right and it's fine now. Hopefully, I'll be ready for Everton.

Pickford has missed seven Premier League games since he was injured in a collision with Papy Djilobodji on Boxing Day. For his part, the Senegalese centre-back will serve the final game of his suspension during the Goodison Park clash.

Sunderland v Arsenal - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

But, Pickford's return will give a Sunderland squad reeling from defeat against Southampton something of a boost. Vito Mannone has been desperately inconsistent since he returned to the side - conceding eleven goals in seven league fixtures but conversely keeping two clean-sheets in the process.

It's the Italian's impact on the pitch which simply must be questioned though. Mannone has looked shaky too often and when the heads of players ahead of him drop, his goes too. The 28-year-old wasn't directly to blame for the goals conceded on Saturday, but there is a suspicion he could have done better. Certainly he was sluggish in reacting to Manolo Gabbiadini's opener and slow-motion replays confirm it.

Further though, Mannone's distribution continues to hamper the side. At times he is too slow in picking a pass or a throw, and more often than not impetus and opportunities are lost as the opposition are constantly allowed to regain their shape. His accuracy isn't up to much either and for a side not blessed with height up front or out wide in its current form - that's an issue.


Lee Cattermole - Cometh the derby, Cometh the saviour

Sunderland travel to the Riverside three weeks on Saturday for what will without doubt be a massive relegation six-pointer Tees-Wear derby. The fixture comes with the added prize of the victor boosting their Premier League survival chances. It's going to be huge.

Sunderland v Middlesbrough - Premier League
Sunderland boss David Moyes and his opposite number Aitor Karanka of Middlesbrough during the first match between the two sides this season, August 2016
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

With heads dropping every time they face a challenge, Sunderland's squad are woefully short of leadership and talismanic figure-heads - and have been all season. And, it's in the centre where David Moyes has never been able to find an imposing figure to make the heart of his squad tick.

You know where we going with this - we need Lee Cattermole back - and at present, the best estimate of his return date would lands Catts right back in the frame for that derby match in March.

Moyes has tried every variant possible in centre midfield this season with varying degrees of failure. Sunderland even appeared to miss Jack Rodwell on Saturday with debutant Darron Gibson displaying all the hallmarks of a man who has barely played first team football this season.

It matters not that Catts always returns to the first team rusty upon his reemergence from injury. Sunderland need some bite, some leadership and some will-to-win. For all their lack of quality, those that took to the pitch on Saturday simply had all the look of a squad who know in their tiny hearts they will be relegated. Lee Cattermole would never allow it.

Sunderland v Norwich City - Premier League Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

Patrick van Aanholt - He's still dodgy

He might be worth 14 million pounds, and he might be playing in a 'better' side - his words not ours - but Patrick van Aanholt proved on Saturday what we all know, that he's a bit dodgy defensively.

Stoke City v Crystal Palace - Premier League
Van Aanholt is beaten by Stoke's Joe Allen on Saturday.
Photo by Mark Robinson/Getty Images

It's scant consolation in the wake of a four-goal-to-nil drubbing of our own of course, but us Sunderland fans have to take our thrills where we can find them.

On Saturday, the Dutch left-back allowed Stoke City's Ramadan Sobhi far too much time in the build-up to the only goal of the game. The Egyptian winger was allowed the space to control the ball by van Aanholt in order that he could lay it off to Joe Allen who hit the winner for Mark Hughes' side. In fact the former Sunderland full-back struggled to contain his man all afternoon.

And the Crystal Palace job was supposed to be Sam Allardyce's redemption after his England disaster. The master of relegation survival was supposed to breeze in, spend some cash and restore mid-table security to Selhurst Park. Six defeats in his eight games in charge suggests this is going to be a whole load harder than that.

If Sunderland are relegated this season, there might not be too many on Wearside who would shed a tear if Big Sam followed us through the trap door. In effect, he would - to a greater or lesser degree - have relegated two clubs in one season. Some achievement to add to his ever-sinking CV after he departed the Stadium of Light for precious little gain in the summer.


Defoe & Pickford the obvious choices at writers' award which went awry last year

Sunderland striker Jermain Defoe picked up the 2016 Player of the Year gong at the North East Football Writers Awards last night, while Jordan Pickford was named the Young Player of the Year.

It is something of a return to reality for the writers' recognition prize which last year awarded the title to Newcastle's Daryl Janmaat with his young teammate Ayoze Perez picking up the junior award.

Janmaat had 'starred' in a Newcastle side which only won seven games during 2015 and his Netherlands international squad had failed to qualify for Euro 2016. The full-back quickly departed for Watford as soon as the Magpies were relegated last season.

What sets Jermain Defoe apart from every other footballer in the North East currently is his consistency in an otherwise poor team. To score fifteen goals last season, and fourteen already this, is some achievement in a poor Sunderland side.

Jordan Pickford deserves his gong for being the most exciting prospect to come out of the North East since Jordan Henderson.


Jeremain Lens in a huff again

Jeremain Lens has gone in another strop - this time the Dutchman, who is on loan at Fenerbahçe, vented frustration with his teammates as his side were held to a draw by Buraspor who scored in the final minutes of Saturday's game.

Manchester City v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

According to reports in Turkey, after the game Lens exchanged angry words with his teammates before addressing the worst offenders - in his opinion - in private. The 29-year-old supposedly even refused to talk to any of his colleagues on the way home. Bless him.

Lens irked Sunderland fans and incurred the wrath of David Moyes last month when he declared on Turkish TV that the relegation of his parent club would make his life easier in pursuing his dream of a permanent transfer to Fenerbahçe.


Jim Lands

Finally, Sunderland have confirmed the widely publicised arrival of Jimmy Sinclair as the new manager of the Academy.

The former Rangers head of all things youth takes over from the departed Ged McNamee who left in November. He arrives with a few words from Chief Executive Martin Bain who worked with Sinclair at Ibrox.

Bain specifically makes mention of the increasing importance of developing young 'in-house' players at Sunderland as part of a wider strategy of arresting the trend in recent years of poor recruitment and wasted young talent:

Developing an increased number of players through our own Academy system, who are capable of playing for the first team, is a key aim.