Brave Vito Mannone returns to Sunderland a hero again as he deals with private heartbreak.
The keeper is fondly remembered for maintaining the Black Cats’ Premier League status in 2015-16 while also playing an integral part in their run to the 2014 League Cup final.
And although he struggled for form at times on Wearside, he will be guaranteed a warm welcome today as he plays despite his mother being seriously ill after a stroke.
Mannone rushed back to Italy last week to be by her bedside, missing Reading’s draw against Bolton.
But the former Arsenal keeper has insisted he WILL be available for selection for the Royals’ trip to the Stadium of Light.
So here are seven of Mannone’s best memories from his Sunderland stint to remind Wearside fans why he deserves a warm welcome.
Starring at the Bridge – April 19, 2014
Goals from Connor Wickham and Fabio Borini handed Sunderland a vital 2-1 win against title-chasing Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. But the work of Mannone didn’t go unnoticed as he saved the Black Cats’ skin on a number of occasions.
Denying Branislav Ivanovic, Nemanja Matic, Mohamed Salah and Willian, Mannone was in fine form and was rightly lauded by the national press. The Italian stopper capped off his performance with late heroics as he denied Andre Schurrle from 30 yards as Sunderland escaped with the spoils.
Shoot-out sensation – January 22, 2014
What was simply one of Sunderland’s most memorable nights in their modern history owed much to Mannone. The Italian emerged as the hero of a heart-stopping, late night League Cup semi-final shoot- out in front of 9000 travelling fans at Old Trafford which booked Gus Poyet’s boys a first trip to the new Wembley.
After a two-legged tie had finished locked at 3-3 after extra-time, saving spot kicks from future Black Cat Adnan Januzaj and Rafael saw Mannone start the engine on the Gus Bus’s journey to football’s HQ.
Haunting Chelsea – AGAIN! - May 7, 2016
With the relegation battle between Sunderland and Newcastle coming down to the final weeks of the 2015-16 season, the Black Cats needed inspiration. And Mannone provided it.
Sunderland beat Chelsea 3-2 at the Stadium of Light to leapfrog their local rivals in the table and take a step closer to Premier League survival. Fabio Borini and Jermain Defoe earned the headlines by scoring within three minutes of each other to seal the win. But victory would have been highly unlikely had Mannone not twice denied Diego Costa earlier in the second half half.
Toffees come unstuck – Boxing Day, 2013
Sunderland won 1-0 at Everton to bring some festive cheer – and three vital points in their survival bid – back to Wearside.
Manager Gus Poyet called Mannone’s performance, which saw him deny Phil Jagielka, Bryan Oviedo and Ross Barkley to record a priceless clean sheet, “the best present you could ever
give me”. But Mannone’s opposite number Tim Howard was also bearing gifts, with his foul on Ki Sung-Yeung resulting in a first-half red card and the penalty with which the South Korean secured victory.
Survival boost as Devils defeated – February 13, 2016
It was another tale of two keepers as Mannone helped Sunderland to the rarest of results against the men from Old Trafford – and to within a point of fellow strugglers Newcastle.
While Mannone conceded an equaliser to Anthony Martial, he crucially thwarted Memphis Depay in the latter stages of the game . . . and Sunderland capitalised. Visiting keeper David De Gea was credited with an 82nd -minute own goal as the Black Cats gained their first ever Premier League win over the Red Devils at the Stadium of Light.
Derby delight – February 1, 2014
Few Sunderland keepers have happy memories of Shola Ameobi. But Mannone is one. The former Italy under-21 goalkeeper denied the so-called “Mackem Slayer” in a one on one, and also kept out a fierce long-range effort from Cheick Tiote. But Sunderland were in clover at St James’s Park by then, courtesy of first-half goals from Fabio Borini (penalty) and Adam Johnson.
After Mannone had done his job, Jack Colback added a late third goal to clinch the Black Cats’ third straight derby victory.
Spiking the Gunners – April 24, 2016
Sunderland finished the 2015-16 season on a six-game unbeaten run which secured survival under Sam Allardyce – and included a Mannone clean sheet against old club Arsenal at the
Stadium of Light.
Mannone denied Mesut Ozil and Alex Iwobi while Patrick van Aanholt hit a post for Sunderland as Allardyce’s men picked up a point which took them out of the relegation
zone. The Italian kept his place in the team during the final stages of the season, despite competition from Costel Pantilimon.