COSTEL PANTILIMON has emerged as one of Gustavo Poyet’s preferred candidates to fill the goalkeeping hole in the Sunderland squad this summer.

Poyet is looking at options to compete with Vito Mannone and the promising Jordan Pickford between the posts next season and Crystal Palace’s Julian Speroni and Pantilimon are two of his likeliest signings.

Both are to become free agents at Palace and Manchester City respectively on July 1 and Sunderland hope to have one of those tied down in advance.

Argentine Speroni, 35, would appear to be in pole position at this stage because of his strong friendship with Poyet.

The pair have known each other for a number of years having struck up a bond when Poyet lived in London, where he played for Tottenham and Chelsea, and Speroni moved to the capital in 2004.

It was something of a surprise when he was not on the retained list revealed by Tony Pulis last week, with the Palace boss looking to bring in a new keeper for his first full season in charge at Selhurst Park.

Speroni, who has been the Eagles’ No 1 for a number of years, would not be entirely satisfied with starting the campaign as understudy to Mannone, but he might be happier than Pantilimon to start there.

City’s second choice shot-stopper has not been offered new terms at this stage, while Richard Wright has because he fulfils homegrown criteria to sit on the bench.

And Pantilimon, 27, is keen to become a number one somewhere after spending the last few years as understudy to England’s Joe Hart at the Etihad Stadium.

The Romanian played when Manchester City defeated Sunderland at Wembley in the Capital One Cup in March. He made just seven Premier League appearances for the champions.

Pantilimon has not been offered a new deal by Blues boss Manuel Pellegrini, along with Joleon Lescott and Gareth Barry. There was talk of him leaving in January but nothing materialised.

Poyet - who needs a new keeper after Oscar Ustari's decision to leave after six months - is pursuing players in a variety of roles and he wants progress.

Sporting director Lee Congerton’s links to Hamburg have raised the possibly of defender Michael Mancienne arriving.

The former Chelsea youngster’s form in the Bundesliga has gone up and down but Congerton, who took him away from Stamford Bridge, is believed to be interested in a deal.

Sunderland will have a significant difference in look to their squad next season, with Poyet keen to make improvements to a pool of players he inherited from Paolo Di Canio last October.

Di Canio, working alongside former director of football Roberto De Fanti, brought in a 14 new players last summer and many failed to impress. A number of them have already been moved on.

But Di Canio has not allowed his Sunderland experience to put him off management, despite lasting just six months at the Stadium of Light – and he is interested in taking over at Celtic following Neil Lennon’s decision to try something new.

DI Canio joined Celtic from AC Milan in 1996 and was Scottish PFA player of the year in his first season at Parkhead.