Fit-again Jordan Pickford is hungry to win back his No 1 spot at Sunderland – and says his body feels stronger than ever.
The in-demand stopper has starred since breaking into the first team with his performances earning him a call into the England camp, with top Premier League clubs Arsenal, Spurs and Manchester City all keeping tabs on him.
Pickford was struck down with a knee injury in the Boxing Day defeat to Manchester United, ruling him out for several weeks.
But Pickford is now back in full training and looking to dislodge Vito Mannone when Sunderland return to action against Everton a week on Saturday.
“I have been fortunate really because the cruciate could have gone bang,” England under-21 international Pickford said.
“It didn’t, it is still intact and I am now fit and ready to go against Everton.
“It was really frustrating being out but it happened and I have just been working hard with the physios and the staff at the Academy of Light.
“It is not just on my knee but all parts of my body, my core, upper body, arm and leg work.
“I have done everything to build my body even stronger and become better on the pitch.
“I feel fine now, we kept on time with the surgeon, we couldn’t go against him as he is one of the best in the business.
“You have to listen even though sometimes I didn’t want to! I am impatient, I want to play and help the team and be involved.
“You have to respect the manager’s decision at the end of the day. I will work hard in training and do my best to get picked for the side.
“What will be, will be but hopefully I get the spot because I want it and I feel like I am ready – I have showed I am worth the No 1 spot.”
Mannone overcame a shaky start on his return to the Sunderland side to help the Black Cats to back-to-back clean sheets against Tottenham Hotspur and Crystal Palace before conceding four in the dismal defeat to Southampton.
David Moyes faces a selection headache now Pickford has recovered fully after stretching his cruciate ligament at Old Trafford.
Washington-born Pickford’s return to training came in the same week he was named the North East Football Writers’ Young Player of the Year at a star-studded event at Ramside Hall, in Durham.
And the 22-year-old was pleased to see his hard work pay off.
“I am delighted to win this award,” said Pickford, who is currently away in New York with the rest of the Sunderland squad.
“I haven’t played that many games for Sunderland but I think my performances for the club have been good and I have been doing well.
“It is nice to get the award, all the hard work has paid off.”