Mannone loving life at Sunderland
Published 19/01/2014 | 13:57
Vito Mannone is having the time of his life as he prepares to deal Manchester United a further blow.
The 25-year-old Sunderland keeper, who played a key role in Saturday's battling 2-2 Barclays Premier League draw with Southampton, was last week linked with a move to Old Trafford amid speculation that David Moyes was targeting him as back-up to David de Gea.
However, the Italian will line up against United in Wednesday night's Capital One Cup semi-final second-leg clash insisting he is happy on Wearside and that his only focus is on booking himself a trip to Wembley.
Asked about the speculation, Mannone said: "I don't really care about this stuff.
"It's stuff that happens outside of the football pitch. My concentration is on the football pitch and it was on this game.
"Now we have got another massive game. I am really living my best time right now at Sunderland and I don't see why I would move right now.
"I want to stay as first choice and I want my performances to improve. That's the only aim I have, apart from aiming to beat Manchester United.
"That's the only focus I have on Manchester United."
Mannone, a summer signing from Arsenal, has been one of the Black Cats' more dependable performers since taking over from the injured Keiren Westwood in November, and has started the last 16 games.
But rarely has he been busier than he was at the Stadium of Light on Saturday as Southampton threatened to overwhelm Gus Poyet's men in a blistering start.
The Saints roared into a 2-0 lead within 31 minutes, with Jay Rodriguez and Dejan Lovren taking full advantage of Sunderland's lethargy.
Fabio Borini's strike seconds after Lovren had beaten Mannone handed the home side a lifeline, and they rescued themselves with 19 minutes remaining when Adam Johnson extended his rich vein of form with a priceless equaliser.
However in the meantime, Mannone had denied Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers and Rodriguez with the visitors threatening to run riot.
He said: "It's a great point. The way it started wasn't the best for us. The first half, each one of us didn't play at the standard, and against a good team like Southampton, you go down 2-0.
"At least then we came up again in full gear and we came back into the game and could even have won it, to be honest.
"We needed that [goal] just before the break because it gave us a base to start our game again. Really, we started a new game in the second half, and you could see that.
"We put pressure on them, as they did on us in the first half, and as you could see, a good team like Southampton was struggling with our pressure."
Poyet later admitted it was a game Sunderland would have lost earlier in his reign, and paid tribute to the resilience of his players.
Mannone said: "That's happened in the last 10, 15 games. We have changed our whole mentality. Even when we are down, at least we compete.
"We played probably 55, 60 minutes at our level and we came back to draw and could even have nicked it."
Sunderland remain inside the relegation zone and a point from safety, with Crystal Palace and Norwich both having eased their own fears with victories over the weekend.
However, they have lost only one of their last 10 games in all competitions and will head for Old Trafford defending a 2-1 first-leg lead, and with high hopes of reaching a first major final since 1992.
Mannone said: "We are not afraid of anything. We are unbeaten in a few games - we have lost one in, I don't know how many, 10 or whatever?
"We are not supposed to go there as a team afraid of Manchester United. We go there, we are 2-1 up - it's a slight advantage which doesn't count too much.
"It's a new game again, but the mentality is 0-0 and we need to go to Old Trafford and make it to Wembley.
"You don't need any pressure to go to Old Trafford, you just need to believe you can make it. Like that, we will perform even better."