ENGLAND World Cup hero Jordan Pickford proved too good for Colombia in Tuesday’s dramatic penalty shootout in Russia but he was no match for two Newport County AFC stars five years ago.

The Everton stopper helped secure England’s first World Cup shootout victory and a place in Saturday’s quarter-finals with a stunning save to deny Carlos Bacca from the spot.

South Wales Argus:

But Pickford’s heroics at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow this week are a long way from his experiences in Newport during two different loan spells from his previous club Sunderland.

He had just turned 18 when he lined up for Darlington at Spytty Park back in April 2012.

The North East club were doomed to relegation from the Conference after being deducted 10 points for entering administration.

Justin Edinburgh’s side needed just a point to ensure that they would beat the drop and they duly got it with a 0-0 draw.

Pickford was fortunate to see a Jake Reid drive rebound off his post in the first half but he went on to make fine saves from Sam Foley, Gary Warren and Nat Jarvis.

Argus reporter Michael Pearlman was full of praise for Pickford and Exiles number one Karl Darlow, who was on loan from Nottingham Forest.

“The goalkeepers were the two best players throughout,” said Pearlman in his match report.

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Things did not go so well for Pickford when he returned to Newport a year later with Alfreton Town.

Relentless rain made for tricky conditions at Rodney Parade in April 2013 and the kick-off was delayed by 11 minutes after the crossbar was found to be six inches too high, forcing a change of posts.

Pickford saved from Alex Gilbey, Conor Washington and Robbie Willmott but the 19-year-old was beaten by Christian Jolley just before half-time (above).

Byron Anthony then headed in a second after the break (below) to secure a 2-0 win and continue County’s march towards the play-offs and eventual promotion at Wembley three weeks later.

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Pickford enjoyed further loan spells at Burton Albion, Carlisle United, Bradford City and Preston North End before establishing himself at Sunderland and earning a £30m move to Everton last summer.

After representing the Three Lions from under-16 to under-21 level, he finally made his senior international debut last November.

Pickford insists his experiences in the lower leagues proved invaluable in his development.

“I learned quite a lot from getting battered by fully grown blokes,” he said recently.

And he’s remembered fondly at both Alfreton and Darlington.

Alfreton chairman Wayne Bradley told the Guardian: “Jordan was a good lad. He kept himself to himself and was a little shy. But when he crossed that white line it was all so different. He was so focused and so commanding. He was a class act.”

And then-Darlington boss Craig Liddle recalled that the teenager was mature beyond his years.

“Jordan was 17 when he came to Darlington and you worry about throwing a young kid like that in,” he said.

“But he fitted in well straightaway. Jordan was always really, impressively, confident but, above all else, he was also a lovely, down-to-earth lad and he’s still the same character today. He hasn’t changed a bit.”

South Wales Argus:

Former Alfreton boss Nicky Law is proud of the goalkeeper’s rapid rise.

“To think he’s gone from Alfreton to playing in the World Cup as England’s No 1 inside five years is incredible,” he said.

“It’s a credit to him but also to our club. We’re proud to have played a part in his progress.

“We never thought we’d see the day when a former Alfreton player would walk out as England’s first choice. We’re delighted for Jordan. We wish him all the luck in the world.”