Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Battle for Places Is What the Cats Need; Pickford's Not Got a Free Pass to Return

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Battle for Places Is What the Cats Need; Pickford's Not Got a Free Pass to Return

Article excerpt

DAVID Moyes says he wants "serious competition" between the sticks - and the starting gun could sound at his old stomping ground.

Jordan Pickford is closing in on a first-team return, and it might come as soon as Sunderland's next game, at Goodison Park on February 25.

But Moyes has warned the England Under-21 international he can expect a fight from Vito Mannone, and the manager cannot wait for it.

Pickford was exceptional during his first extended run as Sunderland's No 1. It saw him twice called up to England's senior squad, though he is yet to make it onto the field. Since Pickford strained ligaments in his knee in December, Mannone has played in the last nine games, keeping clean sheets against Tottenham Hotspur and Crystal Palace.

"Jordan was great and Vito played well in that couple of games recently," said Moyes. "I want competition, I want serious competition.

"All the big clubs have serious competition for their places and if you play well you know that you'll play again. That's the way it is."

Mannone started the season as Moyes' first choice, only to pick up a freak injury himself, damaging his elbow in a training session.

Rather than take part in Wednesday's Premier League International Cup quarter-final against Athletic Bilbao Under-23s at the Stadium of Light, Pickford was on the plane when Sunderland headed to New York for a four-day break. The emphasis will be heavily on team bonding, but on their return they will have more than a week to get ready for the Premier League game at Turn to Page 45 FROM BACK PAGE Moyes' former club Everton.

Before leaving, Pickford collected his award as the Football Writers Association's North East young player of the year and delivered a clean bill of health.

"The knee is fine now," said the 22-year-old, who collided with Papy Djilobodji at Old Trafford on Boxing Day. …

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