England Under-21s boss Gareth Southgate said PNE’s young shot-stopper Jordan Pickford is in pole position to make his debut at Deepdale next week.
The on-loan Sunderland keeper kept three clean sheets in North End’s opening three games and has been named as one of three uncapped keepers in Southgate’s 23-man squad for the UEFA European Under-21s Championship qualifiers.
And speaking at a PNE soccer school before next Thursday’s international clash against the USA Under-23s at North End’s ground, Southgate revealed he was particularly impressed with the 21-year-old’s performance in the Lilywhites’ 1-0 victory at MK Dons.
And he hinted that the keeper will pip Manchester City’s Angus Gunn and Bury’s Christian Walton to the No.1 jersey and earn his first cap at his adopted home ground.
He said: “I had a good chat with PNE boss Simon Grayson about Jordan and I know that Preston are very pleased with him.
“I saw him at Milton Keynes. I thought he was excellent that day, his decision making was good – he was very positive.
“He did well in the summer (with England Under-20 in Toulon and I think he is in pole position, given where he is playing at the moment.”
The game will be Southgate’s first visit to Deepdale as a manager. The ex-England man recalled that he was sacked as Middlesbrough boss just three days before Boro were due to travel to Deepdale in October 2009.
Now six years on, the former Aston Villa defender is looking forward to finally pacing Deepdale’s dugout and is hoping for a big crowd.
He said: “The beauty of the Under-21s and the other development teams is that we can take England around the country.
“I remember the Under-19s coming here a couple of years ago and they got a good crowd.
“With the club on a high and doing as well as they are it is a good moment to come here.
“The pitch is always very good – it is an historic and famous football club so it is good to come here.”
After the Deepdale clash, Southgate’s squad will travel to face Norway at the Marienlyst Stadion, Drammen for their first qualifier on Monday September 7.
And Southgate believes Pickford’s skill to come for crosses may come in handy against the Scandinavian’s.
He said: “At MK Dons, Jordan was positive, punched quite a few, caught a lot and did make good decisions, so Norway may test that area of his game in particular.
“The USA have played different styles at different age groups.
“They will be a couple of years older than us so that will be a good challenge. It is exciting to see new players come in and see how they emerge over the years.”