Vito Mannone may have escaped back to Berkshire with all three points following yesterday's 3-1 win over former club Sunderland, but the ex-Black Cats stopper was clearly touched by the warm welcome he received on his first return.
Former Sunderland goalie Vito Mannone made his first return to the Stadium of Light yesterday since his summer move to Reading and expressed thanks via social media for the warm welcome he received and a heartfelt message waiting for him at the team hotel last night.
Accompanying his supper snack of breads, olives, sun dried tomatoes and some other funny looking things was a card written by the staff at the Hilton hotel next door to the Stadium of Light with the words "Welcome back Vito. Sending prayers and well wishes. Good to have you back even just for a day! Kind regards Hilton Garden Inn and SAFC!".
Photo Vito Mannone uploaded to Instagram
Mannone has had a difficult week with the news his mother is fighting for her life back in his native Italy after suffering a stroke. On the pitch it may have been a good few days for the Royals stopper with a 3-0 win against Barnsley in mid-week followed by a 3-1 victory over Sunderland, but the 6ft 2in has been back and forth to his home country to visit family and be at the bedside of his mam.
Photo Vito Mannone uploaded to Instagram of him as a child with his mother
The ex-Black Cats keeper is remembered fondly in the north east for his four years at the Stadium of Light, notably for his exploits in the 2014 Carling Cup run to Wembley and for his involvement with Bradley Lowery. Mannone played 67 times for Sunderland and whilst he had his fair share of 'oops' moments, the present goalkeeping crisis has brought the decision to sell him to Reading for £2m in the summer in to sharp focus.
Photo Vito Mannone uploaded to Instagram of him with Bradley Lowery
With his replacements - Steele and Ruiter - contributing more than their fair share to Sunderland possessing the joint leakiest defence in the Championship, Mannone's sale still looks dismally short-sighted.
The visiting goalkeeper was yesterday welcomed back to the Stadium of Light with a few rounds of 'Oh Vito Mannone' from an appreciative South Stand and warm applause from the 27,000 in attendance. And his abilities were coincidentally brought back into the memory with this morning's headlines lauding Manchester United stopper David de Gea for his performance against Arsenal yesterday.
Old Trafford boss Jose Mourinho hailed his stoppers' display at the Emirates as the best goalkeeping show he has ever seen and de Gea matched the Premier League record for most saves made - with 14 in the game - to match Mannone's exploits for Sunderland at Chelsea in April 2014.
Vito had previously held the record for most stops made jointly with Newcastle's Tim Krul who kept Tottenham at bay in November 2013. You will recall Mannone's display that day at Stamford Bridge of course. That was the end of the season in which Gus Poyet's side won four of their last five, including victories over Chelsea and Manchester United, to miraculously avoid relegation.
Sunderland inflicted a first home defeat on Mourinho in his Chelsea career that day. The Black Cats 'keeper made a string of point blank saves and blocks on the line to ensure Poyet's side escaped with three points. An 18th minute goal from Connor Wickham and a Fabio Borini penalty clinched the win. The stand-out stop came when Mannone somehow managed to deflect a Branislav Ivanovic bullet header onto the bar in the first half.
Vito had actually just clung onto his place in the side that day following an embarrassing blunder against Manchester City on the Wednesday before the game. A late error from the Sunderland goalie had handed City a costly equaliser.
That sequence of displays in 2014 perhaps best sums up the erratic brilliance of Mannone during his years on Wearside. A 'keeper who was as capable of a howler as he was a humdinger, he's still twice the goalie that the current pair at Sunderland are.