PLAYER of the Year Vito Mannone believes Connor Wickham has been the catalyst for getting Sunderland’s survival bid back on track.
Wickham has netted three times in his last two games – adding to the solitary Premier League goal he had previously managed for Sunderland.
But it is not just the goals that the England Under-21 international has contributed.
Wickham has also provided a much-needed attacking platform for the Black Cats; holding the ball up and bringing others into play.
And goalkeeper Mannone, this week named Sunderland Supporters’ Player of the Year, says that has been crucial in recording a four-point tally from the daunting trips to Manchester City and Chelsea.
“Connor has been really good. It’s what we needed,” Mannone told the Football Echo.
“Everybody has done well, but he deserves big praise because he’s been holding the ball for us.
“We can play a different game and he’s been on form in front of goal too.
“That’s what we need from a striker.
“The other strikers that came on at Chelsea helped us too, so finally we’ve got a good spirit in every department.”
Victory at Chelsea – bringing to an end Jose Mourinho’s run of 77 unbeaten Premier League games at Stamford Bridge over two spells in charge – utterly transformed Sunderland’s prospects of remaining in the top flight.
And Mannone says Sunderland must now treat each of their four remaining games as a “final” with seven points likely to be sufficient for Gus Poyet’s men to avoid the drop, starting against Cardiff City tomorrow (noon kick-off).
“It’s what we really needed, especially after the City game when we really played well,” added the Italian.
“The team has been fantastic in achieving something that can only be a base for going into the next one.
“We play teams at home that we must win now. It’s a big chance, a massive chance for us.
“Chelsea hadn’t lost for 77 games under Mourinho, so it’s something incredible to do.
“But now we’ve got a massive chance and we have to treat each game as a massive final.
“We gave ourselves a chance and home or away, we need the points.
“We take them one at a time.
“Everybody thought we were relegated already, but we are not.”