COSTEL PANTILIMON has been challenged to keep the heat on Vito Mannone by keeping another Capital One Cup clean sheet tonight.
Sunderland boss Gus Poyet admits summer signing Pantilimon was unhappy that fellow keepper Mannone was picked to be the Black Cats’ first-choice stopper at the start of the campaign.
But the Romanian, who kept a shut-out in the League Cup second round victory at Birmingham, will have a second run-out in Sunderland colours in tonight’s Stadium of Light tussle against Stoke City.
Mannone registered his first clean sheet of the campaign in Saturday’s stalemate at Burnley, but Poyet says that if Pantilimon’s defences remain intact in the cup games, then it will inevitably help his cause to be selected in the Premier League.
When asked about Pantilimon being second fiddle, Poyet told the Echo: “At the beginning it was tough. I cannot share my explanation with the public, but I think it was quite fair.
“And even without being happy, he accepted it.
“He’s there and he’s ready, and Vito knows.
“Now, the thing I always say to everybody – and I said the same to Vito last year – is that you need to be ready.
“If Costel keeps another keep clean sheet on Tuesday and we keep conceding in the league, it’s going to put me in a difficult situation.
“It’s something that makes you think, without any doubt.
“Was it a coincidence that we kept a clean sheet in the cup?
“It was important for the team to keep a clean sheet on Saturday.
“Costel will have another opportunity tonight, which is why it’s so important to stay in the cup.
“Players need to play games, hard games, so it’s a very important one for the players who have not been playing.”
Pantilimon will be one of several fresh faces introduced to Sunderland’s line-up tonight, with the likes of Billy Jones, Jordi Gomez, Sebastian Coates and Ricky Alvarez all expected to feature.
Stoke assistant boss Mark Bowen has confirmed that the Potters will make “one or two” changes themselves too.
And Poyet believes that the squad now available to his former Chelsea team-mate at Stoke has plenty of strength in depth.
“I think it’s going to be more of a case of a few players – and I’m not saying three or four, but a number close to that – who need to play for us and they will play,” added Poyet.
“There are a few changes that will be made for sure.
“The Stoke teams we’ve seen in the past had nine or 10 players who were always the same.
“But if you look at their first cup game, the players they had on the pitch were regulars last year. They’ve got a bigger squad. I don’t know the team Mark is going to pick, but we know they’re going to be strong and big.”