Sam Allardyce says ex-Arsenal man was crucial to Sunderland's win over Chelsea
There were plenty of contenders for Sunderland's man of the match against Chelsea, but it was Vito Mannone who climbed the stairs to the corporate hospitality area to collect the prize.
Mannone may not have kept a clean sheet, but his two second-half saves to prevent dangerman Diego Costa creating a 3-1 lead for Chelsea were pivotal in keeping Sunderland in the contest.
The Italian had his doubters when he came back into the side at the turn of the year and Sam Allardyce opted to offload Costel Pantilimon after academy product Jordan Pickford returned from his impressive loan spell at Championship club Preston North End.
But Mannone has fully justified Allardyce’s faith, with the former Arsenal man returning to the form which saw him crowned Player of the Season for the Black Cats in 2013-14.
Allardyce said: “His crucial saves were a big part of why we won.
“His frustration was very apparent when I arrived.
“He said he’d never really got the chance to get back in the side and he asked when he was going to get the chance.
“He said if he wasn’t going to get the chance I might as well let him go.
“It was going to be between Vito and Costel (Pantilimon) because Pick (Jordan Pickford) was always going to come back.
“Costel didn’t like being left out and Watford came in for him immediately, so that was done and Vito’s blossomed with Pick behind him pushing him all the way.
“I think Pick’s a very talented young goalkeeper and he’s going to be a top goalkeeper for many years.
“He’s waiting for Vito to slip up, really, and it’s there for us all to see but Vito’s performances – and certainly on Saturday – have been outstanding.”