At the end of Anfield, Jordan Pickford must have wished there was a full house after all.
The # 1 Everton would have arrived at yesterday’s Merseyside Derby, grateful to have escaped one of the most hostile receptions out of the Kop after the events of last October.
But come full time, all you knew was that this extremely confident goalkeeper would have loved to praise that famous win over the home fans after an outstanding personal performance.
Jordan Pickford put in an impressive performance to clear the ghosts from the last Merseyside derby
For those with short memories – and they won’t include Liverpool fans – it was Pickford who turned Virgil van Dijk out for the season with his reckless lunge at Goodison Park this fall.
He somehow avoided being sent off for the challenge that damaged Van Dijk’s knee. Something even referee Michael Oliver later admitted was a mistake.
But Pickford has been fully ill-treated by Liverpool fans on social media, including horrific death threats that forced the 26-year-old to hire a security team to keep his home safe.
You shudder to think about the kind of reaction he would have received if this second leg had been played in front of an audience.
The English No. 1 made a number of crucial parades to protect the Toffees leadership at Anfield
In between, the 26-year-old was aiming to deny the champions an important compensation
If Pickford was lucky in that regard, he was lucky to be in goal given his form since the last derby.
From his recent appearances, he cost his side two points when he let Youri Tielemans’ punch wriggle out of his grasp in January.
And then, after four games with a rib injury, he returned to Everton in their 3-1 defeat by Manchester City during the week, where he should have done better with Bernardo Silva’s goal.
Manager Carlo Ancelotti will also know that Pickford has scars from that soil.
Pickford took center stage following his role in Virgil van Dijk’s injury this season
Possibly the lowest value came in December 2018 when he inexplicably brought on a crazy shot from Van Dijk over the crossbar in the 96th minute – and Divock Origi scored a winner after the last breath.
But Ancelotti continues to ignore calls from some Evertoners to make Robin Olsen his new number one.
“Pickford and the four in the back did really, really well,” said Ancelotti.
“This is Pickford. This is the Pickford that everyone knows – confidently on target, sure on target, intelligent on target.”
And the Italian’s unwavering faith was rewarded when Pickford scored a sensational save in the 20th minute.
With Everton in the lead, Jordan Henderson looked like he was going to bring the hosts back into line with a sweet volley.
But Pickford denied his English teammate and colleague Mackem when he flew at full speed to get fingertips on the ball.
But the Englishman responded excellently to lay the groundwork for a famous victory
Had Pickford got into this conflict when the October incident clouded his mind, his early intervention would have cleared his mind.
Just a minute later, he proved again that he was in the mood when he brilliantly overturned Trent Alexander-Arnold’s curling attempt. And as is not always the case with Pickford, he managed to maintain that form and focus throughout.
He spread his body superbly in the 69th minute to deny Mo Salah one-on-one as Liverpool’s talisman was sure to score a goal – and then reacted sharply to bang Xherdan Shaqiri on the rebound.
Even in stoppage time he did not let his level drop and parried from a distance via Gini Wijnaldum’s attempt.
Pickford repaid Carlo Ancelotti’s confidence to provide an insured benefit on Saturday
Regardless of all the mental baggage, last night was a real test for any goalkeeper in the face of the wind whirling around Anfield. But Pickford collected crosses with confidence and was consistently outstanding.
On his 150th appearance for Everton, it was Pickford at his best – the player the Toffees hoped they would sign when they squeezed £ 25m to get him out of Sunderland in 2017.
Sometimes it has felt like Everton would never fight for places in the Champions League without a more reliable goalkeeper. But if such displays become the norm, fans may have nothing to worry about.
Pickford’s contributions helped the Toffees to their first Anfield victory of the century
Just as Ancelotti will be delighted with Pickford’s display, so will Gareth Southgate.
The English manager’s loyalty to his 2018 World Cup hero was admirable, even if it seemed foolhardy at times.
Burnley’s Nick Pope continues to lead his case, no more than he conceded against West Brom yesterday.
With three World Cup qualifiers the next month ahead of the Summer European Championship, this was a timely reminder from Pickford of why he continues to be the Southgate man.