FORMER Manchester City stopper Costel Pantilimon has been challenged to continue the bright start to his Sunderland career.
Pantilimon rejected the chance to remain with the Premier League champions at the end of last season, in favour of playing regular top flight football elsewhere.
But after penning a four-year Bosman deal at the Stadium of Light, Pantilimon endured a frustrating start to his Sunderland career – forced to play second fiddle to last year’s Player of the Season Vito Mannone for the first three months of the campaign.
Since making his top flight debut for the Black Cats in last month’s win at Crystal Palace though, Pantilimon has made the most of his opportunity.
Pantilimon has conceded just twice – an own goal and a penalty – and kept clean sheets in each of his last two games.
Ahead of Pantilimon’s meeting against his former club tonight, Sunderland boss Gus Poyet says he has been impressed by how quickly the giant Romanian has settled into the side and is looking for the 27-year-old to maintain those standards.
Poyet told the Gazette: “I’m a great fan of Vito’s, as everybody knows.
“Costel knew the situation coming from Man City. He took it professionally.
“He didn’t like it, but he took it. He waited and then he was ready.
“That position, in particular, is so unfair. You can do everything right, but then you drop one ball and you are the worst player on the pitch.
“Yeah, he’s been good. He’s been calm, knows the division, how to play these big games.
“Let’s hope it continues.
“Of course, that goes against Vito, but we have to look to the benefit of the team and the team is always first.”
Pantilimon will start tonight’s game against his old side, but Poyet will wait until late on before deciding upon the rest of his starting XI to face the reigning Premier League champions.
Sunderland boss Poyet has no fresh injury worries after Saturday’s draw against Chelsea, despite a couple of concerns at the conclusion of the stalemate.
But Poyet is mindful of the physical toll which that result placed on Sunderland’s players and is considering introducing fresh legs for tonight’s Stadium of Light encounter against City.
Sunderland’s squad were due to undergo a light training session this morning and Poyet was waiting until then to decide upon his line-up.
Poyet said: “It (Chelsea) was very demanding.
“We had a few issues afterwards so you can imagine.
“I haven’t decided the team yet.
“I know the players very well, which ones can play three games in a week at this level without any problems.
“There are others who might have a little knock or muscle problem who can still perform, even if they are not 100 per cent. And there’s others who can’t.
“That information helps me to pick the right team.
“But without a doubt, we need to be careful.
“Yes, most of them deserve to play on the pitch.
“If we were playing Saturday, rather than Wednesday, then they would probably be the same, but we need to be careful.”