AJ: Vito award proves it’s been a struggle for Sunderland

Adam Johnson battles for Sunderland against Everton in the Black Cats' most recent home match
Adam Johnson battles for Sunderland against Everton in the Black Cats' most recent home match
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ADAM JOHNSON has no qualms over Vito Mannone being crowned Sunderland Player of the Season.

But the winger believes it speaks volumes about Sunderland’s struggles that a goalkeeper has taken the accolade in each of the last two years.

Mannone beat the likes of Johnson, Ki Sung-Yueng and Phil Bardsley to succeed Simon Mignolet as Supporters’ Player of the Season this week after a hugely impressive maiden campaign from the Italian at the Stadium of Light.

Johnson says Mannone deserved the accolade, yet is convinced even the stopper himself would have preferred an attack-minded player to have had a stunning season and won the award.

“I think Vito has definitely been worthy of that,” Johnson told the Echo.

“But, in all fairness, it shows how much we’ve struggled over the last two years that keepers have won Player of the Season.

“From an attacking point of view, it’s the last thing I want to see and probably Vito wants to see too.

“He’d probably be happy having an easy season.

“Some games we’ve given him so much work to do. He shouldn’t be making 10-12 saves a game.

“That’s not good enough for us as a team.

“You want a striker scoring 30 goals to be Player of the Season.

“But Vito has kept us in so many games and he deserves it.

“It’s not easy having to make save after save.

“He’d probably prefer watching balls go over his goal or getting blocked. Hopefully that will change.”

Mannone’s tally of 14 saves at Chelsea last weekend was the joint highest total made by a Premier League goalkeeper in the last 10 years.

But that contribution has helped Sunderland earn a second chance of remaining in the top flight, with Gus Poyet’s side facing the possibility of moving out of the drop zone if they beat third-bottom Cardiff on Sunday and results go their way tomorrow.

Johnson is wary of putting a number on the magical tally Sunderland need to reach to avoid relegation, although he is confident that seven points from the final four games would be sufficient.

And the 26-year-old is desperate to take a big step towards survival by registering three of those points this weekend, by ending Sunderland’s home hoodoo against a Cardiff outfit equally desperate for victory.

“I don’t want to say ‘this will keep us up’ because I’d look stupid,” he said.

“But if we got six... When the other teams have one less game and with some of the fixtures they have, it’s going to be difficult for them.

“I’d think seven keeps you up, without a doubt.”

The England international added: “At home, we’ve struggled at times, especially against the teams we should be beating.

“We’ve made hard work for ourselves in some games.

“But we’ve got to try to go into it and play our game, and not be a bit of a disappointment on the day like we have been this season.

“It’s happened a lot of times where teams have been happy to come away with a point and get back on the bus.

“But I don’t think Cardiff can afford to just get a point.

“That will probably suit us more because when teams try to play against us, we counter-attack quick and have got real threat with the numbers that we get forward.

“Cardiff have got a tough couple of games coming up, so they’ve got to win it and hopefully that will play into our hands.”

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