Mannone savouring Sunderland life
Vito Mannone is determined not to waste of minute of his career after making a dream start to life at Sunderland.
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The 25-year-old keeper has been a key figure in the Gus Poyet-inspired revival which has seen the Black Cats reach the Capital One Cup final and drag themselves out of the Barclays Premier League relegation zone for the fist time since August, courtesy of Wednesday night's 1-0 win over Stoke, in the space of a week.
Mannone, one of the 14 summer signings drafted in by then director of football Roberto De Fanti and former manager Paolo Di Canio during the summer, now has 19 senior appearances for the cub to his name, the last 18 of them starts, and he is relishing the opportunity to show what he can do having managed just 26 appearances in eight years at Arsenal.
He said: "It's something unbelievable, it's like a dream.
"I suffered a lot in the past [at Arsenal], if I'm honest. I expected my chance for a long time there, but they never really gave me a real chance.
"Finally, I got it at Sunderland and I don't want to waste a minute. I'm loving every minute of every game and when I can perform, I will do my best to help the team and to give something back to the fans, who have been incredible.
"It's great to hear them singing my name."
Those fans were certainly singing on Wednesday evening as their side edged past the Potters to secure a first home league win in six attempts, and one which had significant repercussions.
Despite their recent improvement under Poyet - they have now lost just twice in 13 outings in all competitions - Sunderland have spent most of the season struggling to dig their way out of the bottom three.
However, having put themselves in touch in recent weeks without ever nudging their way over the safety line, they finally managed to do so with a nervy win over Stoke.
They took a 17th-minute lead through England winger Adam Johnson's eighth goal of the season and his sixth in as many games, and looked to be cruising when the visitors had Steven Nzonzi dismissed for a second bookable offence eight minutes into the second half.
In the meantime, Mannone had to pull off a breath-taking save to keep out Ryan Shawcross' header from point-blank range, and was later grateful to see the defender loop a header on to the crossbar as Mark Hughes' men caused panic in the home ranks amid a late flurry.
But ultimately, Johnson's strike won the day to send the Black Cats into Saturday's derby trip to Newcastle in positive mood.
Mannone said: "It was a massive three points. We all knew that we needed a win and thankfully, even with difficulty, we got it, which was great.
"We hadn't managed to beat one of the teams around us at home. The gaffer said before the game that this is the time, no more excuses, stupid reasons or cheap goals.
"We're out of the bottom three for the first time since August and it's great to see the table.
"It's a great win and we can prepare for our next game, which is massive."
By contrast, Hughes left Wearside fuming at Nzonzi's dismissal and claiming striker Jozy Altidore, his victim on both occasions, had gone down too easily.
He did so denying that Sunderland midfielder Lee Cattermole, who missed the game through injury, is a target for the remaining hours of the transfer window, but hoping reinforcements may yet arrive at the Britannia Stadium.
However, he also insisted he will be happy to go with what he has got if none materialise after witnessing a spirited display in adversity in the north-east.
He said: "If we don't get anybody else in, then so be it because the group I have got showed tonight that they are am excellent group, great character, great determination and no little skill.
"If we go with this group from now until the end of the season, I haven't got a problem with that."