Saturday Spotlight: Forty-one years on and FA Cup hero hails Vito Mannone's magic

First published in Sport The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Chief Football/Golf Writer

Wearside worshipped a new goalkeeping hero in the shape of Vito Mannone this week. Chief football writer Paul Fraser caught up with the 1973 version to hear how Jimmy Montgomery is dreaming of a cup shock once more

ONCE Old Trafford had been cleared of fans after an incredible night of cup football on Wednesday, Jimmy Montgomery stood at the front of the directors box on his mobile phone trying to describe the drama, the twists and the turns of what he had witnessed.

The incessantly loud and joyous chanting of the Sunderland supporters may have left, yet you could almost still hear 'Que Sera Sera … We're going to Wembley' reverberating around the empty Theatre of Dreams.

After Montgomery had hung up his mobile, he sported a smile as wide as the River Wear and had a glint in his eye, which could have been mistaken for a tear, as he took one more look around Old Trafford before training his eye on the empty net in front of the East Stand.

“At 70 years of age,” joked the septuagenarian after a timely pause. “I didn't need that.”

Montgomery knows all about being a cup hero. He is, arguably, the greatest in the club's history for his wonder-save from Peter Lorimer in 1973 which has been hailed ever since as the one which sealed FA Cup glory at Wembley.

Fast forward almost 41 years – supporters will need no reminding of how that is the last time a major trophy returned to the club – and there is a new goalkeeping hero wearing a Sunderland shirt.

The latest heroics might not have been for the right to lift a trophy (just yet), but Vito Mannone has etched his name in to Wearside folkore all the same.

Just five months in to his Sunderland career after moving from Arsenal, Mannone has already ensured he will never be forgotten. Not only did he show a steady pair of hands throughout the return leg of the semi-final on Wednesday night, he then became the star turn.

When Javier Hernandez's late, late leveller forced the tie to penalties on aggregate, the stage was set for either Sunderland's Italian shot-stopper to shine … or for his counterpart, David De Gea, to make amends for his blunder from Phil Bardsley's moments beforehand.

This was Mannone's time.

After years of being in the background at the Emirates, the 25-year-old grasped his opportunity on the big stage. With the penalty shoot-out on a knife-edge, he stayed strong to first deny Adnan Januzaj before diving to his right to parry the crucial fifth and final spotkick from Rafael.

With 'One Vito Mannone' chants bellowing from the away end, which then carried in to the dressing room when his team-mates sang, an emotional Montgomery was happy to have another Sunderland goalkeeper enjoy the spotlight. “All credit to the lad because Vito deserves all of the accolades he gets for that performance at Old Trafford. Hopefully he can do it again at Wembley!” said Montgomery, who was seen hugging the club's owner Ellis Short immediately after the semi-final success.

“Vito did tremendously well throughout. In fact, not just on the night, but also ever since he arrived. He has been a real plus point this season for us and he deserved that performance. And that penalty save.

“He was very, very confident throughout the game, his handling was great and his distribution has been spot on ever since he arrived. What I like to see of a goalkeeper in a Sunderland shirt is that he actually catches the ball rather than punches or palms it out, and Vito does that.”

What could easily be forgotten is how Mannone had to fly to his left in the dying seconds of the 90 minutes to catch a Januzaj free-kick which was floating towards the top corner in front of the Stretford End.

Had that gone in, Manchester United would have been two up on the night, 3-2 up on aggregate and Sunderland would have been out. Extra-time would never have taken place. The travelling support would have headed home with just a fight to stay in the Premier League to focus on.

Instead the same fans are planning a trip to Wembley. Hotels and trains have already been booked and Montgomery, a club ambassador, will be one of the first to take his seat on March 2.

“It looked as if neither side wanted to go to Wembley with the penalties, but we got there in the end. We played well enough without really having the cutting edge,” said Montgomery.

“I know we had to score, it was very difficult, but thank goodness it all worked out. I just couldn't believe it when Manchester United went down the other end and scored with 30 seconds to go.

“It was disappointing for us to see Phil Bardsley's goal get immediately cancelled out by Hernandez's goal. At 70 years of age I didn't need that excitement! But we have achieved it and it is absolutely fantastic.”

There will be similarities when Sunderland head to Wembley in five weeks to that afternoon in 1973. Both teams this time around may hold top-flight status, but few will expect Sunderland to actually win the thing.

The class of '73 know exactly how that feels. When Bob Stokoe's team took on the might of Don Revie's all-conquering Leeds United, there was only going to be one winner. Except, Sunderland had other ideas.

Ian Porterfield's priceless strike, Montgomery's incredible double save and Stokoe's on-pitch celebrations after cameras had captured the manager's tension perfectly as he pulled a blanket over his knees and then off again in the closing seconds of the final. Memories which have stood the test of time.

“Just being at Wembley without playing is an absolute sensation, so these players this time around have to go and enjoy it,” said Montgomery. “The comparison can be – and will be - made with 1973.

“Leeds were the best side in the land that year, 40 years ago, Manchester City are probably the best side in the land at this moment in time.

“We went down as unbelievable underdogs, you couldn't get a price on us on winning. We are there again this year and there's no reason why this group of players can't surprise the country again.” Between now and then, and after this afternoon's FA Cup fourth round tie with Kidderminster, Sunderland must do their best to make the Capital One Cup final an ever more enjoyable occasion by bolstering chances of staying in the Premier League.

The relegation battle faced by Gus Poyet and his team remains, financially, an absolute priority for a club which has shown signs of real progress since the early days of the campaign when they looked certainties for the Championship. Montgomery can see why, but the traditionalist in him thinks silverware should always rule.

“For the 9,000 people at Old Trafford it was all worth it,” he said. “They were absolutely superb throughout and they clearly knew what they wanted that night.

“I know Sunderland supporters and a trip to Wembley is what they have been craving for years. From a club point of view we've got to hope it will keep the momentum going in the league as well. I don't care what you say, winning games can give you momentum going in to the league too. Long may it continue.

“It is difficult you know, to reach a final. It might have been a long time, but there are a lot of clubs out there all trying to do the same.

“There are all these Premier League sides, top class ones some of them, so you know that we are never going to win the Premier League at this moment in time, so you have to live for the FA Cup and the Capital One Cup.

“I can never understand why there are so many clubs that don't take it as seriously as they should. This can make a season special. We are in the final, OK we are playing Manchester City, a fantastic side, but I always remember us saying that about Leeds.”

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