Losing Pickford a "massive blow" to Sunderland
David Moyes believes he might have been robbed of "the best young English player" in this season's Premier League after learning he will be without Jordan Pickford for up to eight weeks.
The 22-year-old goalkeeper is facing a spell on the sidelines with a knee injury after colliding with team-mate Papy Djilobodji during the 1-0 Boxing Day defeat at Manchester United, although there was an element of relief when the scans confirmed a strain rather than a rupture of his anterior cruciate ligament.
Black Cats boss Moyes said: "Jordan has unfortunately stretched his ACL, his cruciate - thank goodness it's not a rupture like the likes of Paddy (McNair) or Duncan (Watmore) have had.
"They have said it will be probably about six to eight weeks. The good news is it's not as bad as maybe at one point we did think, but obviously it's a massive blow for us because he's been excellent.
"I think he's arguably been maybe the best young English player this year - or new talent if you want to call it that - and he has also, more importantly, saved us points."
Pickford's form since he was thrown in at the deep end in August because of Vito Mannone's elbow injury has even seen him elevated to the senior England ranks after performing with distinction for the Under-21s.
But while Moyes knows he will be a big miss, he admits there could be a positive to his enforced lay-off.
He said: "This will not be a problem to him because he's out six or eight weeks. He's a young goalkeeper who will miss a bit of time - sometimes taking them out of the firing line can help them a little bit as well."
Pickford's misfortune will open the door for the experienced Mannone once again, and Moyes will have no qualms about recalling the Italian.
He said: "We are fortunate that we have got Vito's experience - and we'll need it because as I've said, Jordan has saved us points and we'll need Vito to do the same for us.
"But he's done it here for a long time, he has a great record here, so let's hope he can do it again."
The loss of one of his better performers this season could hardly have been more badly timed for Moyes, who will see Lamine Kone, Wahbi Khazri and Didier Ndong head for the African Nations Cup next month with Pickford, Lee Cattermole, Jan Kirchhoff, McNair, Lynden Gooch and Watmore on the long-term casualty list.
However, he is not anticipating a January departure for any of his key players despite speculation over Pickford and Kone in particular.
The Scot said: "I have not heard one word from any club regarding interest in any of my players. I would expect I would have heard something and I have not, so as far as I'm concerned, it's not the case."