Football is a game of two halves, goes the old adage, and it certainly was for Jordan Pickford at Bramall Lane on Saturday.
The Everton goalkeeper was unfortunate to score an own goal in the first half against Sheffield United, but made an incredible triple save in injury time to preserve a point for his team.
The 2-2 draw in an entertaining lunchtime game allowed both sides to collect their first point of the campaign, but Sean Dyche’s men will be grateful for a huge helping hand from their number one.
Pickford told TNT Sports: “I have got to be switched on. I know it was 98 minutes but the manager told us there would be 100-minute games so we never lack concentration.
“They got a bit of luck on the second goal, but it is a performance we should have got three points from.”
Dyche said: “Jordan Pickford makes a brilliant double save and you think about how mad is football. It would have been an injustice [if Everton had lost].”
‘Massive’ Pickford saves the day
Pickford goes off on international duty with England knowing his late heroics have provided a huge boost for Everton as they go into the break with one point rather than being stuck on zero.
Just before half-time, the £18m signing from Aston Villa then curled a shot which rattled the post, but it ricocheted back off Pickford and landed into the net.
The former Sunderland stopper could not believe his luck, lifting his shirt over his face, having become the first Everton goalkeeper to score a Premier League own goal since Maarten Stekelenburg seven years ago.
But after Arnaut Danjuma‘s equaliser, he made amends late in the second half with a combination of stops that showed why he remains England’s undisputed number one.
Oli McBurnie rose for a corner in the 98th minute and thumped it goalwards but Pickford tipped the ball on to the crossbar with a reaction stop, before the Blades striker’s follow-up struck his head and cannoned off the post.
The goalkeeper still had the alertness to spring up and smother the ball to claim a much-needed point for his side and then give a cheeky grin towards the home fans.
“We all thanked him for it,” said Everton forward Danjuma. “I was stood near the post and thought: ‘Oh no, is it not going to be our day?’
“But fair play to Jordan, it was a great save and he continues to be massive for us.”
Pickford’s best year still to come
In all, Pickford made six saves, including sharp stops from Gustavo Hamer in the first half and a Luke Thomas volley in the second period.
Pickford, 29, has 54 international caps and is closing in on 400 career club games. Dyche feels his best years are still to come.
“He is working all the time; he is a top keeper,” said Dyche. “He knows his way around the Premier League and international scene, and is a very good keeper as we all know.
“Keepers and centre-halves are the ones who mature the latest in football and get better and better. You learn to read the game, be professional, the standard and training. The longer you play, the wiser they get and what the game is about.”
United manager Paul Heckingbottom said of Pickford’s late saves: “It was a big moment and another example of why we love the game and how fine the margins are.
“We will need a lot of those moments to go in our favour this season.”