Ex-PNE loanee is pick of keepers
Jordan Pickford's call-up to the England squad will have come as no surprise to former team-mates at Preston and the Deepdale faithful.
The Sunderland goalkeeper is in Gareth Southgate’s squad for Tuesday night’s World Cup qualifier against Slovenia in Ljubljana.
His selection on Sunday night came after injury forced Burnley’s Tom Heaton to pull out of the trip.
Pickford played 27 games for North End in the first half of last season when on loan from Sunderland.
To say he impressed during his stint in the PNE keeper’s jersey would be an understatement.
As far as some Preston fans were concerned, he was the best keeper seen in their time watching the club.
Pickford was highly thought of by the Lilywhites coaching staff and players.
Chris Kirkland, who was his understudy last season, praised the Wearside lad in an interview last year with the Evening Post.
Kirkland said: “I have worked alongside a number of top-class goalkeepers in my career and I have to say that Jordan Pickford is up there with the best.
“He has got a great chance of going right to the top.”
Preston goalkeeper coach Alan Kelly played a pivotal role in bringing Pickford to Preston and then saw his talent quickly shine through.
“Jordan does not have any fear when he plays, it is almost a youthful disrespect for fear,” said Kelly.
North End made their move for Pickford nine days ahead of the start of last season.
They had spent much of the summer trying to bring back Sam Johnstone to Deepdale.
But when Johnstone proved to be out of reach, they switched attention to Pickford at Sunderland.
It was the sixth loan move of his career – he had previously played in the Conference, League Two and League One.
He kept 12 clean sheets in his 27 appearances for North End, including a run of six straight shut-outs in October and November.
The accuracy and power of his kicking attracted particular attention.
Although Pickford signed a season-long loan agreement, there was a recall clause which could be triggered during a 10-day spell last January.
That was duly done by the Black Cats, Sam Allardyce wanting a closer look at him.
Pickford had been loaned out before Allardyce got the Sunderland job and Big Sam decided he wanted him back at the Stadium of Light.
He played three games in the second half of the season for Sunderland and signed a new contract with them.
This term, Pickford started as second choice behind Vito Mannone.
An injury to Mannone has seen Pickford start the last five Premier League matches, and he has also played twice in the League Cup.
Reflecting on his time as a loan player, Pickford said: “I have been on a lot of loans and have benefited from each of them.
“The Preston one really helped me, I’m thankful that they took me.”