PNE keeper set for Under-21s debut

Jordan Pickford trains with England Under-21s
Jordan Pickford trains with England Under-21s
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Preston North End loan goalkeeper Jordan Pickford is ready to take the next step up the international ladder at his temporary Deepdale home.

The shot-stopper, borrowed by PNE from Sunderland for the season, has represented England at five different age groups.

On Thursday night, he is set to make his Under-21s debut when Gareth Southgate’s side host USA Under-23s.

As he is on Preston’s books for this campaign, it will be a fitting venue for Pickford to make his bow in Southgate’s side.

Pickford said: “I’ve been all the way through and over the years, we’ve had really good keepers in the Under-21s, so for me to come through and get into the squad is something that I’ve always wanted to do.

“I’ve played for the other year groups, but Under-21s is the main one that you really want to do.

“To make my debut for the Under-21s would be an honour and a massive privilege – all of the hard work over the years has paid off.

“Being at Deepdale would make it special. I’ve only played a few games there so far but the fans have been really good.

“We get good crowds at PNE and the away fans have been great too, so to make my debut there would be great.”

Pickford views his time with the England Under-17s squad as the highlight – to date – of his international experience. In 2011, they reached the semi-final of the European Championships in Serbia and the last eight of the World Cup in Mexico.

Raheem Sterling was one of his team-mates in those two tournaments.

“Every age group has been great, but the Under-17s was a brilliant year when we played in the Euros,” said Pickford.

“We got to the semi-finals and came up against a very good side, but then to get to the World Cup in Mexico at 17-years-old was a different story.

“All of the lads who went were a great bunch and we were together for so long and you become pals from it, learning the game and dealing with that environment.

“The save I made against Argentina in the World Cup was the highlight for me from my international career so far.

“It has been nice to see a few of the old faces from then.

“I hadn’t seen them for a while as they stepped up a few years ago.”

Pickford last wore the England keeper’s jersey in June, playing for the Under-20s at the Toulon Tournament, where they finished fourth.

“Toulon was a really good tournament to play in,” said the 21-year-old.

“The games came thick and fast and there were some top teams involved who we came up against.

“It’s all a learning curve and I really enjoyed that tournament, it was a different experience and it’s all good for your future.

“Playing in a tournament like that holds us in good stead for the future, just to be in that environment and play against teams from different continents.

“It was really good in that sense and in each game, you get taught different styles of football from each side.”

Pickford has enjoyed the opening month of his loan with North End, Lilywhites boss Simon Grayson having moved to sign him on July 31.

Being on loan is nothing new to him, having enjoyed spells away from parent club Sunderland at Darlington, Alfreton, Carlisle, Burton and Bradford City.

Said Pickford: “It’s really good, we have a nice, tight confident group.

“I’m still only 21 but for a keeper I’ve played quite a few league games which has been pleasing.

“It’s all good experience and I’m getting better and better.

“The best thing I can be doing is playing league football week in and week out, there’s nothing better than that.

“Being in the Championship after being in League One last season is another stepping stone for the future for me.

“Hopefully it stands me in good stead as I can concentrate on Preston and keep putting in good performances.

“I think I’ve started off quite well, so I just want to keep on improving.”