VITO Mannone says his big challenge this season is keeping clean sheets for Sunderland rather than keeping Costel Pantilimon out of the side.
The signing of the giant Romanian from Premier League champions Manchester City at the start of the summer transfer window had Wearside buzzing.
Most had expected Sunderland to go in search of a back-up keeper for Mannone, with the departure of Keiren Westwood at the end of his contract.
Instead, the Black Cats brought in a keeper who would clearly push Mannone all the way to be first-choice keeper.
But Player of the Season Mannone says he was always focused – and remains so – on retaining the first-team keeper’s gloves by helping Sunderland earn precious shut-outs.
“Am I worried about Costel signing for the club?” he mused. “No, not really.
“I was relaxed about it, as I always said.
“The manager spoke to me at the time and everything was fine – I got my head down and just tried to work hard and be ready for the start of the season.
“So far, I think it’s gone well.”
Despite some speculation, Mannone retained the keeper’s gloves for Sunderland’s opener against West Bromwich Albion and had been in goal for all three Premier League games so far, while Pantilimon was handed his Black Cats debut in the 3-0 Capital One Cup win over Birmingham City.
“Competition is normal,” said Mannone. “It’s the same at any football club.
“Me and Costel get on together, we train well and we try to put in the performances when we get the chance.
“Costel did it in the cup and I tried to do it at QPR.
“It’s a fair competition and I just want to keep my shirt.”
Mannone is far from complacent however and was unhappy with the goal conceded at QPR in the Black Cats’ Loftus Road last weekend.
But he believes the quality of the defence will improve as the signings bed in.
“It’s always important to be united at the back,” said the 26-year-old ex-Arsenal stopper.
“We all know each other, but there’s little decisions you need to make in one game where if you are not perfect with each other, you can have a hard time.
“I think defensively, we did OK, apart from the goal.
“But we have to be better at marking in the box from set pieces.”
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