Gareth Southgate says the excellent form of Jordan Pickford over a prolonged period is just reward for the Everton goalkeeper’s increasing calm under pressure.
Pickford is poised to win his 40th England cap when manager Southgate’s team play Poland in a World Cup qualifying match in Warsaw on Wednesday.
Southgate gave Pickford a senior England debut in October 2017 – and managed him at Under-21 level – and insists his confidence in the player has remained unaltered over the past four years.
Pickford, who reckons he’s playing the best football of his career, has repaid his national team boss's faith with 20 clean sheets and starring roles in two runs deep into major tournaments.
Southgate was joined by Pickford at England’s pre-match press conference on Tuesday, when the manager told evertonfc.com: “We’ve always had belief in Jordan’s abilities as a goalkeeper.
“That has been questioned externally but never internally and his performances have always warranted that faith.
“There is the goalkeeping ability of keeping the ball out of the net, then the ability with his feet which is so important in the modern game.
“He has a fantastic range of passing and with the way we want to play that is very, very important.
“There is room in everybody’s games to continue learning.
“And in the past six months, especially, his calmness in the matches has been a real standout and progression.
“That has never been an issue in our games but, generally, across the board, I think he has noticed that’s an area he’s paid attention to and he’s certainly seen the reward of that in his performances.”
Pickford was rested for a comfortable Wembley victory over Andorra on Sunday as Southgate changed his entire starting XI from the thumping 4-0 win in Hungary last Thursday.
The keeper’s cool amid a hostile atmosphere in Budapest five days ago was illustrative of a player brimming with confidence – and a continuation of Pickford’s flawless early-season performances for Everton.
Club manager Rafa Benitez cited the 27-year-old as one of the leaders in his squad and Pickford signed off for the international break with a clean sheet in Everton’s Premier League victory at Brighton & Hove Albion.
Asked if he’s in the finest form of his career, Pickford said: “Yes, I am maturing and a lot more experienced.
“Everything is a learning curve and, for me, it is about improving day to day and being consistent over a period of time and being the best I can.
“The biggest thing is decision making, making the right pass at the right time.
“[Deciding] if it is a counter-attack, or if I need to take the sting out of the game and give the lads a breather.
“I’ve always felt I was good at distributing the ball.
“But it is doing it at the right time and looking after the lads.
“If I have the ball in my hands, I am in charge and need to manage the game and that is what I have improved most.”
Pickford and England expect to be confronted by a raucous home crowd in Poland.
For the Everton player, handling the atmosphere generated by a partisan opposition support is nothing new. And it is another facet of his game where Pickford has detected improvement.
“You have to be focused, as a goalkeeper you hear everything clearly,” added Pickford.
“But it is about playing our football and silencing the crowd.
“It [blocking out noise] is difficult but it is something I’ve learned to manage and not focus on.”