Pickford cuts out mistakes to be England’s reliable No. 1

BURTON-ON-TRENT, England (AP) — When his England credentials were being questioned, Jordan Pickford never let the doubts seep into his mind.

Even though the goalkeeper’s performances for Everton occasionally featured mistakes, England coach Gareth Southgate maintained his faith in him.

That backing has been justified. No other keeper at the European Championship has gone through the opening four games without conceding a goal.

“You are always up for criticism when you are an England player and a professional footballer, it’s just about adapting yourself and maturing each day,” Pickford said Thursday. “Keeping clean sheets will keep us progressing and the opportunity for the lads up front to be able to score.”

It’s not that Pickford has been kept quiet in the England goal at Euro 2020. Of the seven saves he has made, the most decisive came against Germany on Tuesday at Wembley Stadium when Kai Havertz’s shot was pushed over the bar. England went on to win 2-0 and will next face Ukraine in the quarterfinals on Saturday in Rome.

“He looks a much more assured goalkeeper, he’s calm and composed,” former England goalkeeper David James said. “He looks happy. He doesn’t look wound up, and that breeds confidence in the players in front of him.”

James singled out the moment, after Raheem Sterling put England in front against Germany, when Pickford faced Thomas Müller one-on-one. The Germany attacker put his shot wide and Harry Kane went on to net England’s second.

“When Müller got through it was a prime opportunity to do something reckless, to keep running out and try to anticipate Müller, but he didn’t,” James said. “He held his ground and it took a lot of composure.”

It shows why Southgate remained loyal to the goalkeeper who was ever-present in the run to the semifinals at the 2018 World Cup.

“He has been decisive at the right moments for us and has made good decisions with the ball at his feet,” Southgate said. “You have seen the range of passing that he’s got. He has dropped a few in to the front players. He has been able to play through the lines.

“He’s in a really good place and he’s given us a really solid start point for what has been strong defense from the whole team.”

There is competition for the England gloves.

When Pickford was ruled out of the World Cup qualifiers in March because of injury, Nick Pope was between the posts for the games. But the Burnley goalkeeper was ruled out of Euro 2020 because he needs surgery on his left knee.

There had been calls for Dean Henderson to take Pickford’s place, but an injury forced the Manchester United goalkeeper to leave the squad. Sheffield United’s Aaron Ramsdale and West Bromwich Albion’s Sam Johnstone remain reliable backups, but Pickford’s place is a certainty.

“We work hard,” Pickford said, “and share the load and get the best out of each other.”

There have been none of the blunders or reckless moments for England that saw him dropped from the Everton lineup last season by then-manager Carlo Ancelotti.

“It makes me laugh that people are talking about mistakes in the Premier League,” said James, an England goalkeeper at the 2010 World Cup. “He’s been outstanding. He hasn’t really made a mistake. He hasn’t put us under any pressure and he’s been exactly what you want from a goalie in a major tournament.”

The target now is emulating the England side of 1996, which reached the European Championship semifinals — but go even further.

“You can’t fault him for England, he’s never let England down,” said David Seaman, England’s Euro ’96 goalkeeper. “He’s made some good saves in this tournament already and long may that continue.”

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