After at last being given the chance to fight for his place, Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone thinks it is bringing the best out of him.
For much of his eight-year Arsenal career, the Italian was never anything more than a back-up option, playing just 15 Premier League games. Loans at Barnsley and Hull City offered his only release.
It seemed a similar fate might befall him at Sunderland, but Keiren Westwood’s head injury gave him chance to prove his worth and he retained his place when Westwood was fit to face Manchester City.
Who will face Stoke City on Saturday is unclear, but Mannone believes that uncertainty helps both players.
“The challenge for the place gets the best out of us both,” he argued. “That’s why you do the job.
“I don’t like it when it is too easy for the No 1. At some stages, some managers don’t give opportunities to the guy on the bench. They think the (first-choice) goalkeeper is sometimes untouchable. I don’t like to be untouchable.
“If it is a challenge for the right-back, I don’t understand why it is not a challenge for the goalkeeper.
“I have been in that position for many years, waiting for a chance. At some stages I thought, ‘Why did I not get the chance?’
“When I first arrived I thought I was going to play, I played almost all of the pre-season and I thought I did well. I’m not sure why I didn’t but I stayed positive. When you go through tough times you have to be ready. That is in the past and now it’s thinking about the future. I am happy where I am and I want to keep pushing on.”
Westwood has also been in the position of undisputed No 2 at Sunderland. Until Simon Mignolet left for Liverpool in the summer, his only league appearances came when the Belgian was injured. It reached the stage under Martin O’Neill where Westwood was not even used in the cups.
Mannone’s chance came at Hull early this month, when Westwood was injured in an accidental collision with Paul McShane. He came on late in the first half, made two important saves in the second and has retained his place ever since.
“The best mentality is to expect to play,” Mannone said. “I have learned a lot. In the past I might not have been ready to play, but that’s where mentality comes in. The more experience you gain, the more you want to play.
“You need to think you are the No 1 and be ready to play at any moment. When I went on at Hull I was right to think like that.”
Poyet’s style of play demands his goalkeepers are good on the ball, a role Mannone feels well prepared for.
“I’m more natural to playing football from the back because I was at Arsenal for eight years,” he said. “When I was kicking the ball, everyone was angry with me.
“I have a passion to play football. I like to play with my feet, not just to launch it.”
Meanwhile, Emanuele Giaccherini insists he has no plans to leave Sunderland, despite having barely featured under Poyet.
The midfielder is an Italy international and Inter Milan are hoping to take advantage of his lack of action in a World Cup season by trying to sign him in the January transfer window.
“I am happy,” he insisted. “I came here with a lot of enthusiasm and hope to keep doing well.
“I keep looking towards the dream that is the World Cup, though of course I have to earn it. Of course I miss Italy and every time I return it is a joy.
“I spoke to (Juventus coach) Antonio Conte after the move. He said he was very sad and so was I, as in two years I achieved so much at Juventus. I still cheer them on.”
Lee Cattermole plays against Darlington in a friendly at Heritage Park tonight.
Cattermole needs match-practice because he is two games into a three-match suspension.