Why does Southgate continue to waste this England spot?

Ryan Benson

Every once in a while we, as consumers of football, are treated to a performance for the ages. Whether that’s a striker scoring six in a single game, or a playmaker singlehandedly carrying his team over the line with a masterful display of creativity. They happen occasionally and when they do they’re great.

The same can be said for Tom Heaton’s quite remarkable display against his former side Manchester United on October 29. The goalkeeper pulled off a string of crucial saves; some basic, some extraordinary, and Burnley held on to salvage a point in spite of United having 37 shots.

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Heaton’s performance was, without any exaggeration, probably one of the Premier League’s greatest goalkeeping displays ever, so his presence in the England squad a little over a week later is no surprise.

But, what’s the point in him being in the squad?

At 30 years of age, Heaton will never become a genuine contender for a starting XI role and, as third-choice behind Joe Hart and Fraser Forster, it seems unlikely that he will even play for a minute in either of England’s next two fixtures against Scotland and Spain.

Okay, perhaps he will be afforded some playing time by Gareth Southgate in the friendly against Spain, but at this stage of his career it seems somewhat pointless given there is actually a good young prospect waiting in the wings.

Despite Sunderland enduring a disastrous season until Saturday’s 2-1 win over Bournemouth, there has actually been one positive so far; Jordan Pickford.

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The 22-year-old spent last year either as back-up at Sunderland or on loan at Preston North End. This term, however, he has really seized his opportunity after coming in for the injured Vito Mannone.

Initially it looked as though Hart was set to fill Mannone’s void, but luckily for Pickford he opted for Torino and the local boy hasn’t looked back since.

Of course, Sunderland remain rooted to the bottom of the table, but were it not for Pickford’s efforts you have to wonder how much worse off they’d be.

Pickford has produced exceptionally mature performances throughout the season so far, particularly against Tottenham, Southampton and Bournemouth on Saturday, essentially secured Sunderland their first win of the campaign with a brilliant late save.

This isn’t a prospect who is likely to vanish; Pickford is destined to be an England goalkeeper for years alongside Jack Butland and, although he has just 11 Premier League appearances to his name, an international call-up now would have been entirely justified. It would have also given him important experience.

Yet it’s Heaton who gets the nod despite having a very limited international future.


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