JOHN O’SHEA insists Sunderland’s Premier League rivals can keep their hands off Vito Mannone.
The Italian goalkeeper was the hero of Sunderland’s Capital One Cup semi-final victory over Manchester United on Wednesday night after saving two spot-kicks in a dramatic penalty shoot-out.
Mannone has arguably been the biggest success story of Sunderland’s summer recruitment drive after firmly establishing himself as the Black Cats’ number one, following Keiren Westwood’s season-ending shoulder injury.
But the former Arsenal man’s form has not gone unnoticed after reports in Italy earlier this month suggested Manchester United were keeping tabs on the 25-year-old.
Skipper O’Shea hopes Mannone, who has stressed his happiness at the Stadium of Light, remains a fixture for Sunderland though after witnessing the stopper’s rise to prominence.
O’Shea told the Echo: “It comes down to belief in his own ability.
“He was at Arsenal, so you’ve got to have the confidence to play somewhere like that.
“But game by game, you can see how he’s grown in stature.
“That’s generally what happens with keepers and thankfully he was able to grow even bigger on Wednesday.
“I’m sure there’ll be a few more rumours about where he’s going, but hopefully he won’t be going anywhere for a long time!”
The rise in Mannone’s stock has corresponded with a fairytale turnaround in Sunderland’s fortunes after the Black Cats took just one point from the opening eight Premier League games and looked a lost cause before the arrival of Gus Poyet.
And O’Shea believes the Capital One Cup has been the catalyst to the vast improvement in Sunderland’s league form.
“Obviously, the cup has been a welcome distraction at some stages,” he said.
“But when you’re beating the calibre of teams you’re beating along the way to the final, it gives you confidence.
“There’s another nice obstacle in the way to lift trophy (Manchester City), but it’s been incredible.
“It’s bonded us together and given us that grit and determination in the league as well to put some good runs together.”
O’Shea is expected to be rested for tomorrow’s FA Cup fourth round visit of non-league Kidderminster Harriers, as Poyet introduces fresh legs before next week’s Premier League double header against Stoke and Newcastle.
New signing Santiago Vergini is expected to come into central defence and O’Shea has welcomed the arrival of the Argentina international.
“A couple of new bodies have arrived and hopefully they can get their confidence up,” added the Republic of Ireland international.
“There might be a couple more arrivals too and it’s important for the whole of the squad to have an impact because there’s some massive games to come.”