Italian thinks Poyet is doing a great job at Sunderland

The Northern Echo: Top form: Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone Top form: Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone

SUNDERLAND'S Goodison Park hero Vito Mannone feels he is in the best form of his career and has thanked Gus Poyet for giving him the belief to shine on the Premier League stage.

Mannone will be between the posts at Cardiff City for the Black Cats today as they look to win back-to-back league fixtures for the first time since April.

If the Italian can keep a fourth consecutive clean sheet in the top-flight then Sunderland will be in with a strong chance of sealing a win which lifts them off the foot of the table.

The 25-year-old is relishing the opportunity to enjoy an extended run in the first team picture after years of being third and fourth choice at Arsenal.

Sunderland are benefiting from his performances, highlighted by his display at Everton on Boxing Day when he made three exceptional stops – including a free-kick from Ross Barkley – to preserve a 1-0 lead.

Mannone said: “It’s massive for us. I’m really happy now because I’ve got the chance to play and that’s all I’ve been searching for for years. I never had a manager who believes in me like Mr Poyet and finally I’ve got a good manager who understands me and I want to push on.

“The more clean sheets that come the happier I am so that’s all you are waiting for. I need to work really hard. The team will need my help and I will need them as well.”

After starting the season as the understudy to Keiren Westwood, he has grasped the opportunity to impress since replacing the Irishman during the defeat at Hull on November 2.

Westwood continues to be absent with a shoulder problem, but when he does eventually return he will find the occupant of the goalkeeper position in no mood to hand over duties again.

Mannone said: “I think any Premier League game is massive when you make a few saves and especially against the big clubs.

“I had another game in the past with Arsenal (v Fulham) that I thought was my best but I swear it is so tough every game because the level is so high. You must keep concentration and make important saves.

“It is a big responsibility because you are fighting for this club and also for the fans, for yourself, for your team-mates and everyone. We are in a position that we are but you need to believe in yourself first and show everyone we can do it together.”

If Sunderland can win at Cardiff then they will head in to the New Year full of confidence after a depressing first half of the league season.

The hope around the Stadium of Light is that three points will lift them up from bottom as they enter 2014. Already, though, Sunderland are showing signs of getting out of trouble.

“It may happen many times where teams bottom at Christmas go down, but a lot can happen,” said Mannone. “No team had won at Everton for a year and we hadn’t won there since 1996 but we’ve managed to get a win.

“Things can change and we must believe and look at ourselves. We’ve got a tough second part of the season and still have a lot of teams to play around us. We need to believe, because when you do you can make crazy things happen and win against big clubs.”

With Cardiff and Aston Villa, who travel to Wearside on New Year's Day, Sunderland are well aware of the importance of collecting points against the teams in the bottom half of the division after defeating Europe chasing Everton.

Mannone said: “Cardiff is another tough game and we have to take it as if they are in the top four. Cardiff are fighting with us. We need to believe. We may be bottom but if you don’t believe you don’t get great results like at Everton and you can’t fight.

“We did great at Everton but we haven’t achieved anything yet. Football is crazy. One day you are up and one day you are down. I knew it was going to be tough at Everton but when I said 'we must believe', thankfully all my team-mates did.”

Mannone could have Wes Brown back ahead of him at the Cardiff City Stadium this evening after serving a one-match ban.

While Poyet is likely to recall the experienced former Manchester United defender, Mannone feels the performances of Modibo Diakite and Valentin Roberge at the heart of the defence should not be overlooked.

He said: “I think my defence was brilliant. We had two new guys coming in after not playing for a long time. I’ve been in the same position as them and you need to really fight against the negative side of your mind.

“It drags you down and down and you just want to leave because you are not playing. We spoke a lot this week and I think Roberge and Diakite deserve a big prize from everybody and the fans because it is never easy when you are not playing. They showed at Everton they can fight against players like Romelu Lukaku.”

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