Sunderland need Vito Mannone to do a Jordan Pickford
How many points has Jordan Pickford won for Sunderland?
If your answer is ‘almost all of them’ then go to the top of the class.
There may be a quibble or two over the exact total, but there is no doubt that, but for the 22-year-old, the Black Cats would still be in single figures.
Sunderland have a very good stand-in keeper in Vito Mannone, though he had an off-day in Saturday’s depressing 3-1 home defeat to Stoke City.
The 28-year-old actually started the season as number one before an elbow injury let in Pickford, who is now out himself with knee ligament trouble.
And Mannone now needs to start showing his number one quality and the sort of form which previously made him a player of the year on Wearside.
So far on his comeback to the side, his sequence reads bad, good, bad in the Premier League – it is a pattern that cannot continue if the side are to beat the drop, again.
One member of the press corps, harshly, suggested Pickford ‘might have fared better on one leg’.
Unlikely, unjust and cheeky it may be, but there is a serious side to all this.
When you are as bad as Sunderland – and they are, there is no getting away from that – having a rock-solid keeper is not just advantageous, it is essential.
There were mitigating circumstances for his difficulties at Burnley on New Year’s Eve, when he conceded four goals.
It would be fair to say the Italian was a tad ring-rusty after four months out of the firing line – you can do all the training you want and be put through the mill by goalkeeping coach Mark Prudhoe, but it’s a different matter on the Premier field.
But how the former Arsenal goalie responded against Liverpool with a man-of-the-match performance, the Black Cats would not have won a point without his contribution.
However, he was off-colour against Stoke, though he was not alone in that regard.
While he used his right foot to save the initial shot of Marko Arnautovic, a weak left-peg attempt, the ball ran kindly back to the Austrian who smashed it in with his right boot. There was little he could do with Arnautovic’s second seven minutes later, this time his left foot was highly effective after a magical City move.
But he then almost fumbled in what should have been a routine save from Xherdan Shaqiri. The post saved his blushes, but he was visibly shaken and, moments later, Charlie Adam swung in a high, hanging cross to the 6ft 7in Peter Crouch.
Should he stay? Should he come and punch? In the end, he hesitated and did neither and Crouch won’t have had an easier finish in his 99 top-flight goals. That third goal effectively killed it.
Now, this is not a finger-pointing exercise, Mannone is not to blame, this is a team game. He is a good keeper, as he showed against Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana et al on New Year’s Bank Holiday, and he was the double player of the year in 2013-14.
But – there’s always a but, isn’t there – when a team is struggling to defend the goal, knowing you have a keeper who can bail you out is a godsend. And Vito can do it.