Sunderland are “missing” four points as they look to halt Leicester fairy-tale

Sunderland and Leicester meet in last season's Stadium of Light stalemate. Picture by FRANK REID
Sunderland and Leicester meet in last season's Stadium of Light stalemate. Picture by FRANK REID
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Rarely has a goalless draw been celebrated so wildly - or emotionally - as when the final whistle sounded at the Emirates on that nerve-shredding Wednesday night last May.

Just four days earlier, the merriment was slightly more mooted at the conclusion of another stalemate involving Sunderland; a Stadium of Light draw with Leicester which was sufficient for the Foxes to secure their own Premier League status.

They became a team with players who really believe in what they can do

Vito Mannone

Leicester’s players could have been forgiven for scaling the Stadium of Light stands to mark the occasion with their supporters up in the Gods after completing a stunning salvage job.

Seven wins in the final nine games took Leicester from the brink of the Championship to continued top flight existence, and provided the launchpad for what is primed to be the most remarkable story in Premier League history.

Sunderland keeper Vito Mannone knows a thing or two about “miracle” escapes from the drop after the Black Cats similarly staged their own Houdini act two years ago.

And the Italian believes that Leicester’s scarcely believable 12 month turnaround demonstrates the feats can be achieved through sheer self-belief.

“I still remember Leicester coming to the Stadium of Light last season when they got safe here,” said Mannone.

“It was a pretty similar story to us when we had the miracle survival two years ago.

“They kept their squad together for this season and they’ve done a good job in recruiting players and pushed on from the solid base of a miracle survival.

“They became a team with players who really believe in what they can do.

“I’m that kind of player, who wants to believe that everything is possible in football, no matter who you’re playing.

“We did the same (two years ago) - beating Chelsea, nearly beating City away. It’s possible.”

Mannone’s fellow Italian Claudio Ranieri was immediately among the favourites in the sack race when he was appointed last summer after the 64-year-old was a shock choice to succeed Nigel Pearson at the King Power Stadium.

Ranieri was something of a figure of fun from his spell in charge of Chelsea, while he was sacked as Greece manager last season just four months into the job.

But Ranieri has galvanised Leicester’s title charge, even injecting familiar characteristics from his homeland after the Foxes have won five of their last six games 1-0.

Mannone said: “I don’t know him, but I’ve obviously seen what a good manager he is.

“It’s incredible that people didn’t believe in him before he came after he had a bad time in Greece.

“But he had a great time in Italy. He managed some great clubs there.

“He’s an experienced man and he’s very tactical. In Italy, that’s very important as a manager.

“He’s done magnificent and it’s a nice story in football.”

Sunderland have no leeway to congratulate Leicester on their fairy-tale season though.

Four successive draws have propelled Sunderland back into the relegation zone, where their plight could become even worse tomorrow if fourth bottom Norwich can secure a third successive victory at Crystal Palace.

Mannone admits that Sunderland are at least four points shy of where they ought to be after a significant upturn in performances over the last two months.

“It’s a strange feeling at the moment that we are in this position,” added the former Arsenal man.

“We’re playing well and under Sam (Allardyce) we’ve brought a few people in and the squad is complete now.

“It’s going in the right direction.

“I think we’ve been a little bit unlucky with results because we wouldn’t talk like that if we had 30 seconds less at Southampton or been a bit more clinical at Newcastle.

“We’d have four points more and we’d be in a good position.

“But we are where we are.

“We’re probably missing four points.”