VITO MANNONE will head to Old Trafford this afternoon hoping that the memories of January's triumphant visit to the ground will help spur Sunderland to another hugely significant result.
Mannone was the penalty hero three-and-a-half months ago as the Black Cats edged out Manchester United to reach the Capital One Cup final.
The Italian saved Rafael's decisive spot-kick as Sunderland won 2-1 on penalties, with the two-legged semi-final having finished tied at 3-3 on aggregate.
Gustavo Poyet's side return to Old Trafford today knowing a victory will guarantee they remain out of the relegation zone heading into the final week of the season, and while their opponents appear reborn since Ryan Giggs replaced David Moyes in the dug-out, Mannone is hoping his Sunderland team-mates take inspiration from their previous heroics.
“Obviously I have some great memories of Old Trafford, and it will be really good to go back there,” said the goalkeeper, who was voted Sunderland's Player of the Season last week. “It's just another game, but it's a massive one because of where we are in the league and the memories of what we achieved at Old Trafford in the cup.
“We have had some big days away from home this season, so we have nothing to fear. I am sure their players will be thinking about the League Cup game a little bit too.
“They will not be able to ignore it completely. We are going there with nothing to fear because we know we can do it. We will just concentrate on playing our game, and see what happens.”
As well as drawing inspiration from their League Cup semi-final win, Sunderland's players will also be buoyed by the outcome of their last two away games.
Having come tantalisingly close to winning at Manchester City before Samir Nasri grabbed a late equaliser in a 2-2 draw, the Black Cats became the first team to beat Jose Mourinho's Chelsea in a league game at Stamford Bridge when goals from Connor Wickham and Fabio Borini secured a 2-1 win.
Those results transformed Sunderland's hopes of avoiding the drop, and paved the way for last weekend's 4-0 win over Cardiff, a result that took the club out of the bottom three for the first time since February.
“It's a confidence boost to be going to Manchester United out of the bottom three,” said Mannone. “Everything is back in our hands now, and that's always the position you want to be in.
“We've had four great performances now because even before the Manchester City and Chelsea games, we played really well against Everton and were a bit unlucky.
“We played great at Man City and Chelsea, and then things finally clicked against Cardiff and we kept a clean sheet and scored four goals. Hopefully, that will take us into the next game with a really positive mood.”
January's two-legged triumph over Manchester United came at a time when Sunderland were playing at the peak of their form.
Their form dipped dramatically in the wake of the Capital One Cup final defeat to Manchester City, but the last four games suggest they have finally rediscovered their momentum just in time to make a successful push for survival.
“It feels a bit like it did at the start of the year when we got on a really good run, and everything just snowballed from there,” said Mannone. “We were hoping we could achieve something similar at this stage of the season, and it looks like we have got ourselves going just in time.
“We lost a bit of shape and confidence in the last month or so. It has been a tough time because we had been playing great before that, but that period is now at an end.
“It is normal to have difficult periods, especially after you have lost a final in the way we did. It was hard to take. But we have hit form, and now we just have to carry on. We have to keep working hard every day and go into each game with a winning mentality.”