In-demand Jordan Pickford is thriving under the pressure at Sunderland - even if he is far busier than he’d like to be.
Pickford is one of the few players to have emerged from the 2016-17 campaign with any credit after a string of impressive displays in goal for struggling Sunderland.
But even with the consistent brilliance of the 23-year-old, the Black Cats appear destined for the Championship given the 10-point gap to safety.
Washington-born Pickford has been on a steep learning curve since breaking into the first team but he quickly established himself as number one with the stopper also earning a call-up into the England squad.
“It’s good pressure, I don’t get nervous, once I get over that white line I’m in game mode and I’m just wanting to do my best in every game,” said Pickford, ahead of the visit of West Ham United on Saturday.
“It’s another learning curve, I’m open to tests, every week I’m getting a lot of action and getting tested but I keep saying, if I’m not doing much in goal then the lads in front of me are doing their jobs.
“But I’m there to be called upon and to make saves and that’s the part of my game that I’m good at.
“As a fan growing up, all my mates are Sunderland fans, all my family, we all have one target and that’s to be in the Premier League, as an area, a place, and to be the best team in the North East as well.”
Survival hopes fade by the week but Moyes’ options have been boosted with the return of Lee Cattermole after a six-month spell out.
And Pickford has hailed his return to competitive action as Sunderland continue their season-long battle against the drop.
“We’ve got Catts back now who has been a massive miss for us,” added Pickford.
“He’s our main leader in there, even in training he gets people going.
“We’ve been unlucky with Jan Kirchhoff, who was a massive player for us last season.”
Boyhood Sunderland fan Pickford, whose form continues to attract attention from top Premier League clubs, cut his goalkeeping teeth during loan spells at Darlington, Burton Albion, Carlisle United, Bradford and Preston North End before forcing his way into the first team under David Moyes this season.
Pickford has followed a similar route to England number one Joe Hart, with the Manchester City & Torino stopper enjoying loan spells at Tranmere, Blackpool and Birmingham City in the early part of his career.
Pickford added: “I felt like every game when I was out on loan, I felt like I was getting better.
“I came back and made my debut against Arsenal and my Premier League debut a week later, but then I was on the bench I was getting frustrated because as a lad I just want to play football, but I’m a team player so I did my bit and we stayed up.
“I’ve always looked up to Joe Hart and what he’s done as a young lad, the pathway he chose to become England’s number one.
“For my coaches growing up, what he did, going out on loan, playing man’s football, being there at 3 o’clock on a Saturday is massive.
“Watching what he did was big for me, we felt that was the right pathway to choose.”
* Sunderland’s Premier League fixture against Arsenal will take place on Tuesday, May 16 (KO 7.45pm), it has been confirmed.
The Black Cats were originally due to face Arsenal at the Emirates on April 22 but the game was postponed due to the Gunners’ progression to the FA Cup semi-final.