VITO MANNONE says his meteoric rise at Sunderland is “like a dream” after being cast to the fringes at former club Arsenal.
Mannone, the penalty shoot-out hero at Manchester United seven days earlier, was again the key figure for Sunderland in last night’s 1-0 victory over 10-man Stoke City after preserving the Black Cats’ advantage with several superb saves.
The Italian keeper made just 15 Premier League appearances during his eight-year stint with the Gunners and was farmed out on loan spells to Hull City and Barnsley.
But since succeeding the injured Keiren Westwood between the sticks in November, £2million summer signing Mannone has been a revelation and swiftly become a firm favourite on the terraces.
Mannone told the Echo: “It’s something unbelievable, it’s like a dream.
“I suffered a lot in the past (at Arsenal) if I’m honest.
“I expected my chance for a long time there, but they never really gave me a real chance.
“Finally, I got it at Sunderland and I don’t want to waste a minute.
“I’m loving every minute of every game and, when I can perform, I will do my best to help the team and to give something back to the fans, who have been incredible.
“It’s great to hear them singing my name.”
A first Premier League win at the Stadium of Light since November ended Sunderland’s five-month stay in the relegation zone and move the Black Cats two points clear of the bottom three.
And although Sunderland made hard work of it against the Potters’ 10 men, Mannone said the victory was all that mattered, as Gus Poyet’s side earned the perfect boost ahead of Saturday’s Tyne-Wear derby.
Mannone added: “It was a massive three points. We all knew that we needed a win and thankfully, even with difficulty, we got it, which was great.
“We hadn’t managed to beat one of the teams around us at home.
“The gaffer said before the game that this is the time – no more excuses, stupid reasons or cheap goals.
“We’re out of the bottom three for the first time since August and it’s great to see the table.
“Stoke are one of the best at winning scrappy crosses, headers and second balls. We knew that and we dealt quite well with it, even though we put too much pressure on us.
“We were winning against 10 men, but sometimes, when it’s like that, the fans want you to push and push, whereas you need to relax and keep the ball a bit more.
“It’s a great win and we can prepare for our next game, which is massive.”