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Top Cat: Jordan Pickford's return needs to kick off a change in fortune for faltering Sunderland

If this season's Sunderland squad was any food, they'd be a shit sandwich. You've got your two slices of bread - Jordan Pickford and Jermain Defoe - attempting to hold together a load of crap between them.

Sunderland v Watford - Premier League Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

There's a genuine reason I'm yammering on about sarnies by the way. I'm not trying to conjure up fancy new ways of slating Sunderland by comparing them to food for the sake of it (although I wouldn't exactly be starved of opportunities).

That real reason being is that viewing our club like this really foregrounds just how vital Pickford is to our side. The youthful stopper is, in all brutal honesty, the difference between a side struggling at the bottom and one condemned to the consequences of losing that struggle.

If Jermain Defoe is our sword, then Jordan Pickford is as much our shield. We may not always be able to wield them effectively due to the shortcomings of the rest of the team, but what's important is that they're weapons readily at our disposal. If we lack either of these, we're under-armed when it comes to dealing with opposition.

Everton v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Manchester City, who we face this Sunday, obviously aren't just any regular opposition either. If we're to have any hope of getting a result against them, we need a goalkeeper who can make that one quality save which would be the difference between a turn of fortune and another disheartening defeat.

No doubt it's universally agreed among Sunderland fans that Pickford is better than Mannone, but would swapping Pickford out for Mannone really make a significant difference in our chances to find some form of success?

The short is answer is yes. However, for those of a more sceptical disposition you need not look any further than the comparisons between the two 'keepers.

Out of the five league games we've won this season, Pickford has been there for four of them whilst Mannone was present only in the other one. Moreover, Pickford's average goals conceded per game stands at 1.7, superior to the 2.1 held by the Italian.

There's also the fact that out of the seventeen appearances Pickford has already made this season, only once has he been guilty of an individual error. Mannone has already made two of these in his nine appearances.

Evidently, it's clear that there's a considerable difference in quality between our two main contenders for the place between the poles. But a handful of stats isn't my only reasoning for why Pickford is on course to be this week's Top Cat.

Sunderland v Crystal Palace - Premier League Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Having already gotten a game under his belt last week, we don't need to worry so much about the possibility of Jordan still having some rust from his spell on the sidelines. The quality is never going to be in doubt with Pickford, but it's always good to have the assurance that he's back in the swing of things.

As far as his shot-stopping is concerned, the reflexes demonstrated by Pickford earlier this season led to some saves that bordered on world-class, but I'm not about to let his distribution go unnoticed.

If there's one thing Sunderland have lacked in recent years, it's a 'keeper whose goal kick goes where it was intended. Prior to Pickford, Mannone and Costel Pantilimon competed for a consistent turnout in the first team, but their distributions never distinguished one from the other - neither ever impressed in their ability to hoof the ball up the pitch.

Finally, and above all else, there's the sheer boost in morale that comes with seeing Pickford's name on the team sheet. He's a local lad, speaks with a wholeheartedly broad Mackem accent during interviews and frequently pays homage to the New Monkey on social media.

Pickford invigorates our sense of pride and just generally puts us in a better frame of mind in spite of the ever-stacking odds against us.

Having seen the way in which Manchester City picked apart Huddersfield Town yesterday evening in the FA Cup, I think it would be fair to concede that if we are going to come away from the game with anything other than a defeat we need to hope that our goalkeeper puts in a man of the match display.