Everton goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly has hailed Jordan Pickford’s brilliance after he made two crucial saves in England’s last-16 World Cup victory over Senegal.
It's been the Three Lions’ attacking stars who have grabbed the bulk of the headlines following Sunday’s success as goals from Jordan Henderson, Harry Kane and Bukayo Sako sealed the win and set up a mouth-watering quarter-final tie against France to be played this Saturday.
But while it looked like a routine 3-0 win for Gareth Southgate’s men on paper, the game could have panned out much differently had it not been for the heroics of Everton’s No.1 in the first half.
With England still finding their feet in the contest and with the game goalless, Pickford was called into action.
The first of his two fantastic saves came with just over 20 minutes on the board.
Senegal’s Ismaila Sarr latched onto a ball in the box and directed his shot goalward from just four yards out. The effort whisked just over the bar and was initially labelled as a poor miss by the Watford man, however, replays showed it was actually a fantastic save from Pickford.
“The first one went completely under the radar,” Kelly told evertonfc.com.
“Most people thought the Senegalese centre-forward had hit it over the bar but actually Jordan has recognised the potential danger from a cross coming into the six-yard-box.
“Everyone knows how quick his reactions are and how quickly he covers the ground, a perfect example of that was last year with the Chelsea save for Everton and he did it again last night for that first one.”
Kelly elaborated further on the intricacies of Pickford’s crucial movements: “He closed the space down really quick, put the player under pressure, and that’s another thing people don’t appreciate.
“If you can put a striker under pressure, then you force them into doing something maybe they don’t want to do.
“He’s managed to get a block on it, it has hit his forearm and diverted over the bar.
“It might have only been a small touch but it’s enough to make the difference between it going over the bar or in the back of the net.”
Kelly also paid homage to the 28-year-old's bravery, keen to point out that often in moments such as that one, it’s likely a goalkeeper will get hurt in coming out to close the angle down.
“He’s throwing his body on the line really because if someone’s running across you, they’re going to make contact with the ball, the studs are flying high.
“But that’s one thing Jordan has always had, bravery, and he puts his body on the line for that first save.
“Although unfortunately, it went under the radar, for me as a goalkeeper coach, you see that, and you say that’s a match-winning save.”
Pickford's second big save came just 10 minutes later as he stretched out a strong arm to deny a powerful diagonal strike from Boulaye Dia inside the penalty box.
And certainly, in the eyes of Kelly, it was a save that was just as impressive.
“The second one was equally as good, one thing that everybody saw last night from the angles on the TV was that the ball gets hit into the turf," he added.
“If you’re set for a certain type of shot, you think it’s going to come at you really quickly, but then it takes a deflection or it bounces off the turf, you’ve got to maintain your composure and your position, and again I go back to Evertonians seeing it week in week out from Jordan.
“Those reactions of just getting an arm out, getting a hand out, making sure to get in the way of the ball. That’s something that he’s obviously brilliant at and he showed it again with that second save.”
It proved a quieter second period for Pickford as England got a foothold in the game and started to assert their dominance.
But games such as this one can often prove a big test in international football for a goalkeeper, and Pickford’s ability to maintain concentration throughout before coming alive when needed will be a big reason why Southgate continues to rely on the Everton star.
“That’s international football, I was fortunate to play it myself and I know for large periods of the game you won’t be actively involved in those matches,” said Kelly.
“But it comes down to defining moments, and that means you’ve got to have concentration and focus, you’ve got to be in the game in the moment and Jordan certainly was last night with the two saves he made in the first half at 0-0.”