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Make Your Case: Pickford or Mannone?

Who should be Sunderland's first choice goalkeeper?

Stu Forster/Getty Images

Big V Is The One For Me!

Vito has had a tough run since he returned to the side. No clean sheets in eight appearances does not look great. But as the saying goes, there are three types of lies; lies, damn lies, and statistics. Context is extremely important in football.

Let’s not forget, in the eight games Vito has played since his return, two have been against Liverpool, two against Manchester City and one against Manchester United. Now, Vito has had some shaky moments. He should have saved Afobe’s goal against Bournemouth and his bizarre attempt to save a looping shot at Swansea would have cost us a goal, if not for an offside. However, let’s not forget the wonderful saves he has produced, such as those against Aston Villa when they were all over us in the first half.

There has been a lot of upheaval in recent weeks and the team has undergone several changes, in both midfield and defence, with several goals conceded as a result of individual errors in front of Mannone. It will take time for these new additions to properly bed in and I’m sure that if we can get a settled back four in the final twelve games, the clean sheets will come with Mannone in goal.

Overall, I feel quite secure with Vito in goal. He doesn’t have the presence of Pantilimon, but he has the agility and reflexes to keep clean sheets. It’s only a matter of time because we’ve seen him do it before. This is not some stranger or rookie. This is Vito, and not only has he done it for us before, he’s done it when the chips were down and the pressure was on, which is exactly what we need at a time like this.

The alternative to Vito is Jordan Pickford, and while it would be extremely romantic and wonderful for Pickford to take his place between the sticks and prove a key in another survival story, this is far from guaranteed. Pickford is extremely talented, but is he ready for a relegation run-in, for a team who suffer the most shots at their goal per game in the Premier League?

Anyone remember Ben Alnwick? Wonderful debut for us in the final weeks of the 2004/05 promotion season, including several outstanding saves in a vital win at West Ham. ‘This is our new number one’ was what everyone was thinking. But alas, he burned out, making silly errors and looking shaky and every bit as inexperienced as he actually was in his five consecutive games in 05/06. The adrenaline and excitement will get young, talented goalkeepers through the first few games, but settle them in to the side week after week, they will begin to show their inexperience when the saves and decisions are no longer instinctive, and they begin to overthink and realise the gravity of the circumstances.

Pickford is going to be an amazing goalkeeper, but do we really want him to go the way of Ben Alnwick, beaten down by the pressure of consistent top level games too young? Alnwick had a wonderful career ahead of him, his promise convincing Tottenham Hotspur to sign him. One appearance and five years later, Alnwick has plied his trade for several lower league clubs. We need to protect Pickford and what Big Sam has done so far is right. Play him in a few games to see what he’s made of, allowing his enthusiasm and adrenaline to dictate his displays, but not play him so much that he begins to overthink his game. The pressure is too real to give him the number one jersey on a consistent basis and we already know Pickford has what it takes anyway.

On the surface, the stats don’t look great. But the stats do not look deeper - into the opponents we faced, the changes the team has undergone and the performances and saves Vito has made in this time. Mannone has proven his importance and mental strength to us before in a more drastic relegation fight than this. Pickford has talent, but that is not enough right now and we have a duty of care to protect his potential. His time will come, but right now we have to keep faith with Mannone.

Pick Pickford!

The primary role of a goalkeeper is to keep clean sheets and make important saves. It's really that simple.

Whilst on loan earlier in the season at Preston North End - a side struggling towards the bottom end of the table - Jordan Pickford broke records for the amount of clean sheets that he kept.

That is just how good this lad actually is, and the fact he's playing second fiddle to a keeper that fails to fill me with any modicum of confidence is somewhat of an annoyance.

Sam Allardyce keeps stressing the need for his side to keep clean sheets, but is he really doing all he can to address the problem? We've brought in defenders who look the part and are performing well, yet we still concede far too many goals. Something isn't right.

Is it Patrick Van Aanholt's fault? It's certainly fair to say that he's been at fault for his fair share of goals earlier in the season, but certainly recently his defensive performances have massively improved. Is it John O'Shea and Lamine Kone's fault? I'd suggest not. Neither player have put a foot wrong in recent games and are more than capable of playing well at this level.

The only other constant is the goalkeeper, and Vito Mannone's place in the team doesn't feel as though it's particularly under threat. Although Jordan Pickford played against Spurs and Arsenal in January, that action was taken more to see what he was capable of, and although he played in two losses he was by far our strongest player in both games. Despite this, Mannone was restored to the team for the next game against Bournemouth and since then he hasn't kept a single clean sheet, nor has he particularly stood out.

When a player isn't playing particularly well, he's usually taken out of the firing line and an alternative is given an opportunity to shine. Why is it that goalkeepers are viewed differently?

Aside from everything else, our forwards would infinitely benefit from having a goalkeeper who can actually kick a ball. In twenty-five of our twenty-six Premier League games this season we've had a keeper between the sticks that is incapable of picking out a player higher up the pitch. Aside from being great in the air, a superb shot stopper and flexible, Pickford is one of the best goalkeepers there is when it comes to kicking.

If keeping clean sheets is as important as Sam has suggested, he might want to consider putting Jordan Pickford into his side. His record earlier in the season at Preston would suggest that he's more than capable of performing in a struggling team - I just hope we don't look back with regret that we didn't look to make changes sooner.

Who do you side with? Vote in the poll below!

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