FANS’ favourite Vito Mannone was last night reassured by Gustavo Poyet that there is still a decision to be made over who starts the new Premier League season in goal for Sunderland.
Costel Pantilimon’s willingness to leave Manchester City as a free agent in favour of moving to Wearside indicates that the Romanian has no intention to sit on the bench.
And Pantilimon’s appearance for 90 minutes against CD Nacional on Wednesday night in the Algarve led to many wondering if he had taken the lead in the battle for the No 1 spot to face West Bromwich Albion on August 16.
But Mannone will be given his own run-out in Sunderland’s final friendly in Portugal against Vitoria Setubal tonight and Poyet is adamant nothing should be read in to which goalkeeper played in what match.
“They will play one game each for 90 minutes and that was always what I wanted to do,” said Poyet. “It's a similar situation with Steven Fletcher and Connor Wickham for the striker place.
“Seb Larsson would have played the other day, so I asked Connor (to play on the left) and he was happy to play wide. We went with that system “I would like to have plenty of decisions to make. That's why I became a manager. If I've got two excellent right-wingers, I want to pick the one who is going to win me the game. At the moment, I don't have too many decisions apart from the goalkeepers.”
The Premier League opener at the Hawthorns could well provide Poyet with the biggest selection decision he will have to make. Mannone’s performances last season – with the exception of an error at Manchester City - ensured Sunderland stayed up. He was also the hero of the penalty shoot-out at Old Trafford when Sunderland booked a place in the final of the Capital One Cup.
By the time the season does start, Poyet wants to have greater options across his squad. South American defender Santiago Vergini, who was on loan last season, is set to become the first addition in the coming days, while Palermo’s Uruguayan Abel Hernandez has been offered to Sunderland just 12 months after he was first linked.
Hernandez, or whichever striker is brought in, would provide further competition for Wickham, who is still to sign a new contract, Fletcher and Jozy Altidore.
American Altidore has not been in full training in Portugal and he will not feature again tonight as he continues to recover from the hamstring problem picked up at the World Cup. He should make his first appearance against Real Betis at Bishop Auckland next Thursday.
“The idea is to have Jozy in there for the start of the season,” said Poyet. “The last five or six games he played last season, he was outstanding when he came on for the last half hour.
“He gave us something which we really needed. If he needs to start the season like that, it's not a problem.
“The idea is to get him ready for that half-an-hour at the beginning, maybe he can play in the cup.
He knows that. He's well aware of everything with the internationals.”
Sunderland’s Under-21s, meanwhile, will begin their Under-21s Premier League Division One campaign at home to Liverpool. The Reds will head to the Eppleton Colliery Welfare Ground, Hetton, on Monday, August 18.