EX-ARSENAL keeper Vito Mannone has set his sights high for next season and expects Sunderland to be looking up the table rather than down in the months ahead.
Last season the Black Cats started indifferently before fading further – only being saved from the prospect of relegation in the last week of the campaign.
But Mannone is anticipating a much better season coming up for a vastly re-modelled Sunderland squad.
And the £2m signing hopes the sort of strength in depth the Black Cats have spent the summer trying to acquire – such as the competition for the number one jersey between him and Keiren Westwood – can only stand the club in good stead.
“There is a long season ahead of us and the club does not want a repeat of last year, when it was involved in a relegation battle,” said the 25-year-old.
“We want to achieve something better this season, make it a successful and enjoyable year, and not give the fans another nervous end to the season!”
With last year’s Player of the Season Simon Mignolet moving on to Liverpool and Mannone coming in to challenge Republic of Ireland international Westwood for the number one spot, Di Canio has a decision to make over who will start the season in goal against Fulham at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.
When the Italian first arrived from the Emirates it was assumed he had come in purely as back-up to Westwood.
But the new man has played more pre-season minutes than Westwood – although the Irishman played the full game in last week’s dress rehearsal against Danish side FC Midjytlland.
Both goalkeepers naturally want the number one spot.
Westwood was hugely frustrated last season at how little first-team time he got, while Mannone has admitted that one of the big draws of moving to Wearside was the prospect of getting more first-team action.
The new man will appreciate that Westwood is more likely to get the nod this weekend as the more experienced and established keeper at the Stadium of Light.
But Mannone is very optimistic about the future and is looking forward to being part of a Sunderland squad at the Stadium of Light this season, rather than part of the visiting opposition.
He said: “I’ve been here to the Stadium of Light a few times, but only on the bench – I have never played here.
“I was really impressed.
“It was one of the noisiest grounds, especially last season when Arsenal came here and Sunderland gave us a difficult game and were pushing us hard.
“Arsenal went on to win 1-0, but I think Sunderland deserved something out of the game if I am honest.
“I was really impressed at the way the fans got behind their team, and I expect the atmosphere will be just as good this season.”
H Tickets are still available for Sunderland’s opening day clash with Fulham at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.
The 3pm kick-off will see Paolo Di Canio’s new-look side in competitive action for the first time since May.
New signings Emanuele Giaccherini, Jozy Altidore, and Cabral are expected to make their home debuts against Martin Jol’s Cottagers.
Tickets for the game are priced from £25 for adults, £18 for under-22s, £19 for over 65s and £10 for juniors, and can be purchased in-person at the Stadium of Light ticket office, by telephoning 0871 911 1973 or online via www.safc.com.
Hospitality packages for the are priced from £50 per person. For more information or to book hospitality, call 0871 911 1555.