Sunderland defence can adapt whether it’s Younes Kaboul or John O’Shea at Leicester

Costel Pantilimon
Costel Pantilimon
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Costel Pantilimon is confident that any new faces in Sunderland’s defensive unit will immediately find their feet.

The capture of midfielder Yann M’Vila has potentially given Dick Advocaat a selection dilemma in the middle of the park for tomorrow’s opening day Premier League clash at Leicester City after the French international’s signing was confirmed by Sunderland yesterday.

The last two months of last season was the real us. That was our team

Costel Pantilimon

M’Vila has been training – and playing – during a trial spell with Dynamo Moscow during pre-season, and came through full training with his new team-mates yesterday.

But the main headache facing Advocaat is whether to stick with captain John O’Shea in central defence or hand an immediate Sunderland debut to summer signing Younes Kaboul.

The former Spurs man perhaps tellingly started ahead of O’Shea in last weekend’s final friendly against Hannover 96, although that was only his second appearance during pre-season.

Yet goalkeeper Pantilimon believes Sunderland will be solid defensively whether it’s O’Shea or Kaboul alongside Sebastian Coates at centre-half this weekend.

“It’s not very difficult to work with a new defence because we’ve got very good players there,” said Pantilimon.

“We’ve got great winners like Wes (Brown) and Sheasy, and now Kaboul and Sebber.

“In my opinion, they’re top players and when you play with people like that, it’s much easier.

“Hopefully, we can work well together as a unit and keep more clean sheets than last year.

“But it’s the manager’s problem over who he picks.”

Setting aside Sunderland’s collapses against Southampton, Crystal Palace and Aston Villa, the defensive side of their game was largely OK last season.

The greater problem – and the one which was to ultimately see Sunderland sucked into a third successive relegation dogfight – was their inability to convert draws into wins.

Nine of Sunderland’s 17 draws were goalless, including last season’s trip to Leicester.

“We probably need to convert more draws into wins,” said Pantilimon.

“But then sometimes, a draw is the maximum you can get.”

Sunderland have struggled when it comes to winning on the opening day over recent seasons though – their last success coming back in 2009 when Steve Bruce’s side triumphed at Bolton.

But if the Black Cats are going to avoid another campaign at the wrong end of the table, then Pantilimon acknowledges that Advocaat’s men must harness the momentum from last season’s latest escape from the drop.

However, there will be similar hopes in the Leicester dressing room.

The Foxes won seven of their final nine games last season to become only the third side in Premier League history – after West Brom and Sunderland – to be bottom of the table at Christmas and still manage to beat the drop.

“I think the target for us is just to improve on everything we did last season,” added Pantilimon.

“First of all, we don’t want to be in the same position as last year.

“The last two months of last season was the real us.

“That was our team.

“Hopefully we can stay like that this season.

“Everyone wants to have good results and some success at this club.

“We know Leicester will be thinking the same thing.

“I’m sure they’ll still have some high confidence after what happened last year.”