Jordan Pickford’s brilliance the star turn as open training offers antidote to the Premier League grind

Jermain Defoe ran through on goal, in a move so wonderfully familiar to Sunderland fans.

Quietly moving onto the shoulder of the last man, before a trademark burst into the space in front of the goalkeeper.

Sunderland fans got to see Defoe, Kirchhoff and Pickford in action

Sunderland fans got to see Defoe, Kirchhoff and Pickford in action

An excellent touch to shift the ball into a shooting position, and even in this training session of mid-range intensity, you sensed a spark of excitement in the West Stand.

This time, however, a most unfamiliar ending.

A decent enough effort, heading for the bottom corner.

Most unusually for this 34-year-old striking genius, it was turned around the post.

Jordan Pickford

Jordan Pickford

A wry smile followed, one that said ‘I’m glad I don’t have to go up against this lad every week’.

On a wonderful and brilliantly attended afternoon, even Defoe, whose arrival at the ground was met with a fever akin to Beatlemania, was outshone by the electric Jordan Pickford.

The 22-year-old looks to have picked up just where he left off before his injury at Old Trafford, making a number of superb saves.

That was the biggest positive for fans watching on, alongside the unexpected and most uplifting sight of Jan Kirchhoff striding around midfield.

In a full-sided passing game, he screened his defence and moved the ball around with typical poise.

Elsewhere, there were interesting developments, Didier Ndong pushed right up alongside Defoe, Adnan Januzaj and Wahbi Khazri moved out to the wing.

Really, though, this day was about giving a group of fans a taste of Premier League football, those perhaps too young or unable to attend full matches.

Their excitement and positivity at seeing their heroes put through their paces was a refreshing antidote to the understandable resignation and anger that has been felt on many occasions during another difficult campaign.

Nowhere was that more uplifting than the awe and wonder that met every Pickford save from those watching him strut his stuff for the first time.

Even in training, his talent is something to be savoured.

The final word goes to George Honeyman, a midfielder whose love of the club and commitment to the cause is mirrored in the dedication of those who made their way to the Stadium of Light yesterday.

“You wouldn’t have thought we were bottom of the league having just been out there,” he said.

“They were all smiles, happy, no abuse, it was as if we were going for the Champions League place. It was crazy. The positivity from the fans will drive us through. It was incredible to train in front of that.

“The lads coming in they might not know much about the club but days like this help them, it is impossible for them not to be touched by that and the amount of fans out there. If they weren’t touched by that then they will never be touched by it. I am sure they will. It was incredible and I was even taken back by it.

“Imagine if we were flying in the top 10, how many people would turn out? They back us no matter what and we have to give them something to back. It is incredible support from the people who come to the club.”

Credit to Sunderland for not drawing the curtains while times are tough. The response they got here may well be a much-needed boost ahead of another long scrap for safety.”