HE played a big part in defeating Manchester United on three occasions last season, and now Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone hopes to be smiling again after Louis van Gaal’s side have visited the Stadium of Light on Sunday.
Mannone was the hero when the Black Cats defeated the Red Devils on penalties in the second leg of their Capital One Cup semi-final, while he was also in goal for the first leg victory on Wearside and the Premier League win at Old Trafford in May.
Those results were three of Sunderland’s highest points of a season spent battling against relegation, and the Italian stopper admits they are also up there with the best of his career.
“The semi-final was amazing,” Mannone said. “It was amazing because we knew we had done something massive for the club. “Obviously apart from making the penalty saves my team needed me and I was really happy about my game. I like to remember it.
“Then the game on the run in, it was fantastic to win again there. Exactly the same place we had a special moment in the semi-final. It was so important to win then, to keep beating big clubs and get away from the bottom. It was the Great Escape.
“I hope I will be smiling again on Sunday. I think it was really good playing against them last year and it's a side we like to come to our place. Even if it's early in the season we like to win, to make a good result.”
There is one big difference between the Manchester United Mannone and Co faced last season to the one that will come to the Stadium of Light on Sunday, the arrival of former Holland manager van Gaal.
But life under the Dutchman didn’t get off to the best of starts when they lost at home to Swansea on the opening weekend.
Mannone insists it would be dangerous to write off van Gaal’s men after their losing start, but with home advantage believes Sunderland can inflict further misery on the Red Devils.
He said: “I believe confidence is everything in football. In the Premier League I don't think the difference is that big.
“If you watch the games I think more teams can beat big clubs. We need to play our game and get a result again.
“They may be more fired up this weekend, but you never know it can play in our hands because sometimes the spaces open up and you can play your own football.
“Obviously we know it’s Man United and they've got special players and on a good day a single player can make a result for them.
But we are going into the game with confidence.”
Mannone was given the nod over Costel Pantilimon in Saturday’s draw at West Brom after suggestions the Italian could lose the goalkeeping spot to the Romanian.
However, with head coach Gus Poyet having made it clear the pair are on an even keel, the former Arsenal man insists he will not take his place in the side for granted.
“Every club has to have two or three senior goalkeepers,” the Italian said. “It was impossible to go into the season with just me as the only senior goalkeeper.
“I had a chat with the manager in the summer. I trust him and a week before the game he said to me I was starting. Nothing's changed regarding the battle it's down to me to play as well as last year.”
Mannone is honest in admitting one mistake could cost him his place, and believes keepers have to be mentally stronger than outfield players in order to cope with the pressure they are under to perform.
He said: “I think that's the secret of a goalkeeper. I admit confidence and the mentality is the thing they can't really teach you.
“Obviously you have to have the talent but, at the end of the day, mentality is the main thing for being a top goalkeeper. It's how you react to making mistakes.
“How you lower the number of mistakes. How you react to mistakes is important. I was devastated, devastated after Man City [he spilled Samir Nasri’s shot into the net to deny Sunderland a win at the Etihad Stadium] - for my team obviously, but people around me help me a lot.
“I woke up the next morning and thought, ‘In two days I'm playing Chelsea, so do I sit feeling sorry for myself or try and put it right?’”