Is this Italian Sunderland’s unsung Capital One Cup hero?

In football, strikers get the majority of the plaudits. That’s the way it works. Goals win games and populate highlight reels, and with the forwards the most likely source of efforts that dramatically affect scorelines their contributions get more exposure.

This year’s Capital One Cup hasn’t been any different, with Alvaro Negredo, Edin Dzeko and Sunderland‘s Fabio Borini garnering much praise heading into the Final. The City duo are currently the tournament’s top goalscorers, while Borini netted two of the most vital goals in his side’s journey to Wembley. But one important man not mentioned – partly because he plays at the opposite end of the pitch – is Vito Mannone.

While his compatriot has been credited hugely ahead of the showpiece match, the former Arsenal man has been the bedrock of the Black Cats’ shock trip to the Final. However, he has been an unlikely hero, with the start of the season seeing him firmly used as a back-up to Keiren Westwood in the North East outfit’s goal. The Irishman was sidelined last year, forcing the number two to step up into the first-team, and his run between the sticks has coincided with an upturn in fortunes at the Stadium of Light.

Initially results domestically continued in the same fashion, but Mannone’s displays in the Capital One Cup helped his side to ease past the likes of Southampton, Chelsea and Manchester United as the competition went through its crunch phase. Although the club’s defensive unit all deserve praise, the glovesman was, arguably, their top performer, giving a sense of stability at the deepest point of the side and providing a number of top saves to deny the opposition vital efforts in games they never won by more than a single goal. That’s some going for a goalkeeper who has been barely used in recent years, with his time at the Arsenal prior to his £2m move to the North of England last summer characterised by a lack of opportunities to showcase his talents.

As well as this, Mannone has also impressed in the league, helping Sunderland to move clear of the foot of the table – a position they occupied on Christmas Day – in their desperate fight against the drop.

Thanks to his performances, he looks to be a certainty to pull on the jersey come match day in March, with the Black Cats due for another difficult outing against a free-flowing Manchester City side. The Citizens have already netted well over 100 goals this season, and have the tournament’s top two goalscorers in Dzeko and Negredo – whose combined tally of 12 is only one fewer than Sunderland have managed as a team through the Capital One Cup.

City will get chances on goal, that’s almost guaranteed. So Mannone will once again be in for a busy afternoon in the glare of the nation. His displays through the tournament so far have shown that he has what it takes, and another top showing could firmly cement his place in Black Cats folklore.

Sunderland have never won the League Cup, and Mannone could be the little unsung hero that helps to alter history.

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