SIMON Mignolet was given a watching brief at the Britannia Stadium while his counterpart wilted in the winter sunshine.
It’s never easy for a goalkeeper under Stoke City’s set-piece bombardment to deal with the often illegal intrusions of their behemoths, but Craig Gordon found himself shouldering the blame for Sunderland’s 3-2 defeat in the Potteries last February.
For all their domination from open play, Sunderland – and particularly Gordon – were far too brittle from set pieces and Stoke bundled the ball home twice in the last seven minutes to send Steve Bruce’s side on a downward spiral.
Mignolet insisted last week that Sunderland couldn’t afford to dwell on Stoke’s patented attacking threat. But privately, the Belgian will have known the responsibility lay on his shoulders to avoid the pitfalls Gordon fell into in the clubs’ last meeting with the Premier League’s anti-entertainers.
Yesterday saw an inauspicious start from the 23-year-old as he spilled the first of Rory Delap’s 11 missile launchers and relied upon the scrambling abilities of his defenders to preserve Sunderland’s early two-goal lead.
But, after being suitably buoyed by a superb tip over from Marc Wilson’s free-kick moments later, Mignolet stood up to the test of courage, even if he physically paid the price by undergoing three sets of treatment.
The former St Truiden stopper pawed, punched and caught his way out of danger in a way his twice-at-fault £3.5million opposite number Asmir Begovic damagingly failed to achieve.
READ the full verdict in Monday’s Echo