Jordan Pickford exclusive: Everton goalkeeper targeting survival ahead of 200th Premier League appearance – Sky Sports

Jordan Pickford is set to make his 200th Premier League appearance and the England No 1 exclusively tells Sky Sports Everton have enough quality to survive; watch Tottenham vs Everton live on Monday Night Football on Sky Sports Premier League from 7pm; kick-off 8pm

Saturday 5 March 2022 09:17, UK
Very little about Everton is certain at present.
This is a fractured club facing increased scrutiny after Alisher Usmanov, the Russian oligarch and main sponsor, was sanctioned by the Government.
The suspension in sponsorship agreements with Usmanov’s companies falls against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the club have acted swiftly to distance themselves from USM Holdings and MegaFon.
As you enter Finch Farm, Everton’s state-of-the-art Halewood training base Usmanov paid £6m a year to sponsor, the USM signage has been hastily removed, as it was around Goodison Park during Thursday’s FA Cup win over Boreham Wood.
The loss of Usmanov’s financial support, considered as significant to the club’s plan for a new £500m stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock, represents a commercial challenge that adds to an uncertain period in which the team are hovering precariously above the relegation zone.
Usmanov has signalled his intention to battle what he describes as “unfair” EU sanctions, but it was business as usual on Friday morning for the Everton players who were not in action barely 12 hours earlier.
Jordan Pickford has been blocking out the noise for some time, but when it comes to global events transcending sport, he is a man who sees his team’s myriad travails in perspective.
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Vitalii Mykolenko was handed the captain’s armband for the fifth-round win on Thursday, with a poignant display of support for Ukraine evident in John Lennon’s Imagine played over the loudspeakers at Goodison Park as players held up a banner with the message, “Imagine all the people, sharing all the world”.
It is the only place to start as Pickford emerges ahead of being put through the rigours of a 12pm training session.
“Vitalii is obviously going through a very tough time, but he’s got great team-mates around him and a great club around him who are like a family,” he tells Sky Sports.
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“Everyone here is helping him and the manager has come out and said he’s being very supportive in how he’s dealing with everything.
“It’s not nice for him what’s going on around Ukraine at the moment, but it just shows his character as well – wanting to play and leading the team out on Thursday was a great moment for him. The fans in the last two games have been sensational in that regard.
“It’s always hard for a player coming to a new club in normal circumstances but even when I first came here, I felt welcomed with open arms. It’s that kind of club.
“The fans, the players and the staff around it really makes things a lot easier. For him, apart from what’s going on back in his home country, the club has been extremely supportive given he has only just arrived.”
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Everton can look forward to an FA Cup quarter-final, but there have only been vague signs of improvement so far in the Premier League under Frank Lampard since he replaced Rafael Benitez. In fact, Everton have regressed for shots, expected goals, shot conversion and shots faced.
“I feel the spark is there,” he says when assessing Lampard’s initial impact ahead of the trip to face Tottenham, live on Monday Night Football. “The new manager has come in and we’ve started off well.
“We’ve been in games a lot more and now it’s just about getting the results. We’ve had a couple of tough fixtures but every game in the Premier League is tough so it’s about being on your A game every time.
“We’re trying to play out from the back a lot more now. We’re having a lot more possession in games. I know we didn’t against Manchester City as you’re never going to have more possession than them because they’re that good of a side, but we are now more of a possession-based team, and I feel like we’re being more aggressive now without the ball.”
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What has been consistently sub-standard has been the team’s away record, straddling both sides of the failed Benitez project, with the team’s six away league points the fewest in the division. It is in stark contrast to the last campaign, predominantly behind closed doors under Carlo Ancelotti, when Everton set a new Premier League club-record of 11 away wins.
Individual errors have not helped – something Benitez was very quick to highlight but never addressed – with Michael Keane’s mistake leading to Phil Foden’s match-winner last weekend against Manchester City the seventh conceded as a result of an individual error this term, also a Premier League high.
There was a tactical discipline albeit in defeat against City, but Pickford concedes it will take time for Lampard’s vision to translate into points. It is down to the players to take greater responsibility out on the pitch.
He continues: “It was a great game against City which unfortunately we weren’t able to come away with a result. A penalty decision went against us which happens, but for us, you could hear the fans after the game applauding us and they know the shift we put in. For me, I’ve been here for four – nearly five – years and I know the passion Everton fans want.
“They want you to give it your all and give games a right good go. I feel like we did that last weekend. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a result and that’s what football’s about but it’s about turning performances into wins.
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“I think you get decisions which go both for and against you. It works both ways and certainly we felt it was a decision we didn’t get but you’ve got to take it on the chin and move on. It was hard to swallow but we’ve got to move on and try to get a result against Tottenham.”
Everton were last in the bottom three in December 2019, but they could be in the relegation zone come Monday should Burnley collect anything against Chelsea at Turf Moor on Saturday. A significant psychological element would be brought into sharp focus were that to happen even in the coming weeks.
What has contributed to the bleak outlook and poor form has been how much the team has been rotated in front of Pickford. Injuries have meant Everton have used 32 players this season in just 24 games – more than any other side – something the former Sunderland goalkeeper admits cannot be conducive to improved consistency.
“You can never take one game for granted and we’re learning how every game is tough,” said Pickford, who has kept just four league clean sheets this term with just one in his last 13 games.
“It’s just about getting the early goal and having that momentum in matches. For Everton, I’d say it’s been our away form. We’ve not been good enough away from Goodison, but our home form has been alright.
“We need the same passion, desire and aggression in every game we play if we are to pick up results wherever we’re playing. Picking up points on the road is something we need to work on and it’s something we need to be better at. The statistics and the facts are there.
“We know Tottenham will be another tough place to go against a really good team but it’s about how we adapt ourselves on the pitch. The manager will set a game plan up and we’ve got to execute that and try to get a result.”
Pickford is due to make his 200th Premier League appearance on the same day he turns 28. Having risen to England’s No 1, heightened scrutiny has often come with the territory, but despite the increased pressure from the likes of Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsdale, Pickford is taking the competition in his stride.
“I feel I’ve coped with the criticism in the past well. You’ve got to learn from it. In life, you’re never perfect and everything’s a learning curve in football.
“I don’t listen to the noise. I used to and maybe that affected me in the past, but now I don’t look at it. I have my own social media which I use for close contact with my friends and family, but I block the noise out and focus on myself.
“You’ve got to overcome hurdles in football and for me I had a bad spell over two years ago. I wasn’t in the best of places, but I went away and worked on it, and I’ve come back, and I feel since January last year I’ve been very consistent and wanting to be the best in every game is something I’ve worked on.
“I feel I’m now using my feet well; I’m making saves and I’m good at shot-stopping, but I feel what I’ve improved most over the past two years has been my game management. Through playing all those games you get better at decision-making, and it’s got to be one of your biggest strengths as a goalkeeper.”
Everton are a side stuck in reverse, but Pickford certainly is not one of Lampard’s many problems. “I’ve made 16 saves in two games,” he readily points out.
A question mark over the club’s ever-present Premier League status has got bigger since the turn of the year but there are no such lingering doubts over England’s No 1.
Pickford called on a sports psychologist at the start of last season, not long after he had tied the knot with his childhood sweetheart Megan, with whom they have a child. It has all contributed to a more mature, more measured person both on and off the pitch.
The exaggerated swagger which got under the skin of some at the peak of open season against Pickford has been replaced by a silent confidence.
He adds: “Becoming a dad has definitely helped me mature as a player. They always say when your missus gives birth, you never know what life is going to be like as a father, but it definitely changes you for the good. You learn a lot about yourself and how to cope with situations. It’s made me mature quicker!
“You grow up wanting to play football, and you have an opportunity of a lifetime when you turn professional. You train hard every day and for me, wearing the shirt on a match day is part of the fun. You never get used to getting beat.
“It’s never nice going back home after a loss and needing to regroup to go again is never a nice feeling. It’s the profession we’re in but you can learn from that as well.
“I’ve taken snippets from different goalkeepers because I’ve always said you should have your own style. You can never mirror one goalkeeper. It’s all about looking at the top goalkeepers in the world, for example Manuel Neuer. When I was growing up, Iker Casillas was up there. When I was getting a bit older, I’d look at David de Gea who was flying and still is now.
“You look at the legends of the game, but you’ve got to be yourself, you’ve got to have your own identity and be your own goalkeeper.”
Goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly was kept on Everton’s staff when Lampard replaced Benitez in January, highlighting the importance of it being a specialist position that is built on solid relationships. Kelly has been a constant throughout Pickford’s career.
“I was on loan at Preston North End when I was 21 and it was the loan move which I feel I excelled in the most. Kels was the goalkeeping coach there and he then came to Everton for a period of time when we changed managers. He’s been here ever since and he’s a massive part of my development.
“He’s helped me take my game to another level. He’s with me every day and helps me to learn. We have fun on and off the pitch but the small details to improve he’s always passing on. He’s been brilliant for me.”
Pickford experienced relegation in 2017 with Sunderland, and it is not a route he wants to go down again. He is one of very few players in the Everton squad to have previously been part of a scrap at the wrong end of the table.
Michael Keane was part of the Burnley side in 2014/15 that went down while Ben Godfrey was relegated with Norwich two seasons ago, the same year Abdoulaye Doucoure was unable to prevent Watford from suffering the same fate.
Salomon Rondon and Andros Townsend were relegated with West Brom and Newcastle respectively, but the majority of Lampard’s squad are used to challenging for the European places.
“Winning trophies is what I’m in the game for,” Pickford says. “You don’t get many opportunities to win trophies. We’re now in the quarter-final of the FA Cup which is just the second time since I’ve been here at Everton so we’re close but there’s still a lot of games to be played yet.
“We’ve got the Premier League to deal with as well so there’s a lot going on. If people choose to look at the table, playing after others have played maybe they would feel an added pressure if we do drop into the relegation zone, but we have to focus on us.
“We have to perform, and we’ll head to Tottenham looking to get three points. The quality and depth of ability we’ve got in the side, we’ll be fine.
“We’ve got to dig in and it’s not going to be easy, but we’ve got to work hard, give full commitment on the training pitch, listen to what the manager is saying and carry that out on the pitch.”
England goalkeeping coach Martyn Margetson has been keeping in regular touch with Pickford as Gareth Southgate prepares to name his squad for the forthcoming March internationals against Switzerland and Ivory Coast. He will be one of the first names on that list provided he is fit and healthy.
Southgate only has eight games between now and the World Cup finals, so he will want his first-choice goalkeeper to be part of a team that is performing well and fostering a winning mentality.
“It’s been four months since we were all together, so it’ll be nice to get the group back.”
Pickford recalls watching Lampard’s ‘ghost goal’ against Germany in Bloemfontein as a 16-year-old. “I was in a pub with my mates watching it. You have memories of him as a player, but it’s the one that stands out the most.”
For now, representing his country at the World Cup in Qatar is at the back of his thoughts. The hyperactive, chaotic, sometimes impetuous goalkeeper of his first 100 top-flight games has been replaced by greater control and conviction.
The preening has long since left Jordan Pickford. This seasoned international footballer, this Premier League double centurion, such engaging company, is showing his stature at a time when others at Everton must follow.
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