JORDAN Pickford returns to the ground where he made his professional debut tomorrow admitting he is much happier playing football every week for Burton Albion than he was watching the action unfold on television in previous seasons.
The on-loan Sunderland goalkeeper had played more for his country – with 33 caps at under-16, under-17, under-18 and under-19 level – than at club level before joining the Brewers earlier this month.
The FA clearly rate him highly, but this is only his third season playing competitive football after loan spells with Darlington – for whom he made his first appearance at Highbury Stadium, Albion’s destination this weekend – and Alfreton Town.
He has been handed the number one shirt at Burton and kept his first clean sheet in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Rochdale.
Speaking after making his home debut, he said: “I was very pleased.
“It was perfect, and just what I needed, especially with it being the first home game.”
Dale failed to register a shot on target in what proved to be an attritional game following the sending-off of visiting skipper Peter Cavanagh in the seventh minute.
“I didn’t have too much to do but it’s all about concentration, and you have to focus for 90-95 minutes, just wait to be called on and make that save when you need to,” said Pickford.
The 19-year-old may not have had many saves to make, but he did influence the game with his kicking, forcing a number of corners by booting the ball a long way down the pitch and causing panic in the opposition area.
“The kicking is a really big part of my game,” he said.
“I just keep practising so hopefully they’ll get better.”
Pickford, born in Washington, a town just outside Sunderland, has been with his home club his entire career.
Simon Mignolet, the Black Cats’ number one last year, has left Wearside to join Liverpool, but Vito Mannone and Kieren Westwood are ahead of Pickford in the pecking order for the number one spot at the Stadium of Light.
However, the keeper is happy to bide his time gaining experience on loan, and remains hopeful he can eventually challenge for a shirt with the Premier League club.
“I’m only young so it’s all about experience, playing in the Football League while I’m down here,” he said.
“Every Saturday you’re playing instead of watching from the dugout or watching it on Sky Sports News.
“It’s a good set-up here, training at St George’s Park, and there are not many other league clubs where you would get this kind of treatment.
“I’ve been here a week now, and it’s been really good so far.
“The first game was getting to know the players but after three game, I feel more comfortable now.”
Cavanagh’s red card was hotly disputed by the Rochdale players, management and fans, and it seemed as though the referee was making up for an early foul which he neglected to punish.
On the dismissal, Pickford said: “I don’t know, it was touch and go.
“There was one before that was definitely a red but obviously that was early in the game and the referee was a bit reluctant to give it.
“It’s always hard to play against 10 men, because they just suck themselves in and keep a good shape.
“They’re hard to break down then and they try to keep the ball as long as they can hang onto it.
“So we had to counter-attack when we got the ball.”
Pickford has yet to appear competitively for Sunderland, but will face top-flight opposition later this month after the Brewers drew Fulham in the second round of the League Cup.
“It’ll be perfect for the club playing a team from the Premier League because you’ll see where you stand against the better opposition and see if you’re far off or not,” he said.
“We’ll enjoy it, but we’re hoping to go and win the game.”