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Van Dijk injury just part of the game & Pickford 'witch hunt' needs to stop, says Campbell

08:07 BST 23/10/2020
Jordan Pickford, Virgil van Dijk split
The England goalkeeper has been targeted for online abuse after a heavy challenge ruled the Netherlands defender out with a long-term issue

Former Everton striker Kevin Campbell believes that Jordan Pickford has been unfairly singled out as part of a “witch hunt” following his challenge that led to Virgil van Dijk requiring anterior cruciate ligament surgery, with injuries labelled “part of the game”.

England's first-choice goalkeeper clattered into the Liverpool centre-back early on in the recent Merseyside derby, forcing the Netherlands international off the pitch with an injury that could see him miss the majority of the 2020-21 season.

In doing so, Pickford drew plenty of negative criticism from pundits and fans alike, with ex-Red Graeme Souness branding the tackle as an “assault”, while some supporters took to the 26-year-old's social media account to send abusive messages – a matter the police are now looking into.

And while Campbell agrees that the shot-stopper's challenge was far from clean, he believes that officials were right not to punish Pickford as there was no malice in his actions.

“I know there's been a bit of a witch hunt, going around about the retrospective ban, but it's amazing that when other incidents happen nobody calls for retrospective action,” Campbell told Gentingbet.

“Virgil van Dijk is a fantastic player – and nobody likes to see a professional injured – but I know that Jordan Pickford didn't go out to deliberately injure him. Injuries are part of the game.

“Unfortunately Van Dijk is out for a long time now, but it's just one of those things that happen in football sometimes. It wasn't a great challenge, I admit that, but I think the officials got it right.”

Everton themselves will be missing a star player when the Toffees come up against Southampton this weekend, with Richarlison having seen red late on against Liverpool for a rash challenge on Thiago.

Campbell, however, believes that his former club have the “ideal” replacement for the Brazil international in the form of an ex-Arsenal man.

“Alex Iwobi will be the ideal choice to come into the Everton squad to replace Richarlison,” he said. “However, Ancelotti might want to change it up and bring in Bernard. I do think it'll be Iwobi because he's come on and inserted himself into games and he's looked lively.

“He'll come in and Everton will keep on rolling.”