Seasons can be turned on a single moment, for better or worse. Jordan Pickford’s brilliance in Everton’s hard-fought victory over Chelsea may provide his side with a springboard to beat the drop.
After Mason Mount’s drilled shot beat a diving Pickford and bounced off the inside of one post and on to the other before falling into the path of César Azpilicueta, it looked a certain goal. However, the goalkeeper leapt off the floor and dived full-length to palm away the ball and preserve three precious points.
When Pickford rose to his feet, chest out, blood pumping and mouth roaring, Goodison was in raptures, knowing they had witnessed a save of the season contender. “Hopefully when we look back in five games, that has a bit of legacy,” Pickford explains at Everton’s Finch Farm training ground.
“For me it’s always nice to have that legacy of a save but I’m a team player, a club player, and it’s all about staying up. We have got five games, we need to focus on each individual game, but I will look back at the end of the season with a smile on my face and say that was a vital three points and a great save.”
It was not his only important save of the match; a close-range Antonio Rüdiger shot was repelled in less stylish fashion after the ball smashed into Pickford’s face. “I don’t know if I can remember it, it was that hard. I’ve still got a headache now,” Pickford jokes. “That’s what goalkeeping is all about, getting in the way of the ball. You always do technical work day in day out, but the main thing is stopping the ball from going into the net as best as you can and however that comes across is vital for the team.”
Last Sunday’s victory against Chelsea reduced the gap to Leeds in 17th to two points with a game in hand. Everton face a trip to Leicester on Sunday, which gives the team an opportunity to move out of the relegation zone. Pickford will almost certainly be called on again to help a team who have only secured six points away from home all season.
Frank Lampard’s side then travel to relegated Watford on Wednesday and will hope to have improved their away points total by the time they welcome Brentford next Sunday.
“It is a position we are not expected to be in, but we are. We have to live with that and have the balls to get out of it and stand up and be counted to win the games.”
Pickford will be key in the club’s remaining five games, not just for his saves but his leadership qualities. The 28-year-old is maturing as a player and man, aided by his use of a psychologist. “I felt that’s been a massive part of learning about myself a bit more and maturing. When I first started using him it was a really big help. I think sometimes people don’t know who they are until they take a step back and think about what they’ve done.”
Pickford is England’s first-choice goalkeeper and accepts the responsibilities that come with the title. Lampard handed Pickford the captain’s armband in Séamus Coleman’s absence at Burnley, a sign of his standing in the squad.
“It was great. I always say you need more than one captain in the team; Séamus is the club captain but you need leaders to help Séamus, you need leaders to help the team. If you had 11 leaders on the pitch, it would be amazing but you’ve got to lead in your own way. I feel like I try to be a leader in my way. Sometimes it looks like I’m shouting ridiculously but it’s talking and giving information and trying to lead in that manner. The more leaders you have in the team the better.”
Extra aggression has been noticeable in recent Everton matches and Pickford’s own fiery nature is part of his style, but he maintains an equilibrium between the sticks. “You have to be in the moment. I know I like to be revved up but it is about keeping that emotion with a level head. I want to be who I am, but I want to be a calm figure which I feel like I have been for the last 18 months.”
The experience of being part of relegation battles earlier in his career will help Pickford in this late stage of the season. “I have been in this situation with Sunderland,” Pickford says. “We stayed up and it was a great feeling. It was a struggle. It was hard work from every single one of the lads. It felt like winning something. It was a big relief and a big reward. It is hard where we are. But the relief you take can be good. The win over Chelsea was very big, so now we focus on Leicester.”