Jordan Pickford has been recalled from his loan spell at Preston, to raise big question marks over the Sunderland futures of both Vito Mannone and Costel Pantilimon.
Sunderland have spent several weeks considering whether to bring keeper Pickford back to the Stadium of Light, with the England Under-21 international has been starring for Preston in the Championship.
Sam Allardyce has now decided to give Washington-born Pickford an opportunity at his boyhood club, although the 21-year-old will NOT be eligible for tomorrow’s crunch basement battle at home to Aston Villa.
The Mail understands that Pickford will not necessarily be limited to a back-up role by Allardyce either, with the Sunderland boss ready to put his faith in the academy product and see if his enormous potential can be transferred to the Premier League.
But with Pickford back at Sunderland, the Black Cats are likely to consider whether to offload either Mannone or Pantilimon in the January transfer window.
Mannone had appeared to be on the verge of leaving the club after growing frustrated at his lack of game-time, with Serie A pair Verona and Atalanta both keeping tabs on the Italian.
Yet Mannone – Player of the Year in 2013-14 – has started the last two games and was Sunderland’s man-of-the-match in Wednesday night’s 1-0 defeat to Liverpool.
Pantilimon enjoyed a superb opening season at Sunderland last year, but his form has dipped this time around and the Romanian is on a significantly bigger salary than Mannone.
That is a potential factor, with Sunderland understood to be on the limits of their wage budget and Allardyce needing to free up funds to bring in fresh blood this month.
The other alternative available to Allardyce is to send Pickford back out on loan at the end of January, if he ultimately doesn’t feel he is ready for Premier League football after taking a closer look.
Mannone will almost certainly keep his place against Villa tomorrow though, after Allardyce praised the ex-Arsenal man’s contribution against Liverpool.
“I was pleased with Vito because he’s waited patiently for an opportunity,” said Allardyce.
“On Wednesday, he produced what we needed.
“The two most important people on the pitch are your goalscorer and your goalkeeper.
“Your goalkeeper saves you points, and the frontmen win you points.
“Vito did his best to get us a point. I don’t think there was anything he could do about the goal.”
Disappointed Preston boss Simon Grayson said: “Jordan has gone back. We had an agreement in the summer that he would be for the year, but obviously Sunderland had an option that they could recall him in January if they needed to.
“Given how well he has played, it is not a surprise they have called him back.
“Sam Allardyce wantes to have a look at him and Jordan goes back with our thanks, we are grateful for what he has done for us.
“The lad has been fantastic to work with, he has contributed massively.
“He is going to be a top goalkeeper, whether that is at Sunderland or further down the line somewhere else.”