Sunderland keeper Costel Pantilimon impresses Sam Allardyce

Costel Pantilimon
Costel Pantilimon

Costel Pantilimon has immediately caught Sam Allardyce’s eye in his opening two months in charge of Sunderland.

Goalkeeper Pantilimon has reaped the rewards of a far more resilient defence in front of him, with Sunderland registering clean sheets in each of their last two games.

The goalkeeper is the second most important man in the team, for me.

But the Romanian had to produce a crucial save in last weekend’s win over Stoke City, to prevent Jonathan Walters opening the scoring for the Potters with their only meaningful chance of the game.

The magnitude of that stop - which came just as the Stadium of Light was saluting late former Sunderland keeper Marton Fulop - was not lost on Black Cats manager Allardyce.

“It was an outstanding save,” said Allardyce.

“The goalkeeper is the second most important man in the team, for me.

“After your goalscorer, they’re the one who win the points. He’s impressed me immensely since I’ve been here.

“I think the one chance Stoke got, was a clear-cut, outstanding chance.

“He’s put his body on the line at a critical time of the game.

“Who knows how it would have panned out if that had gone in?”

Victory over Stoke propelled Sunderland out of the relegation zone and two points clear of third bottom Bournemouth.

And the magnitude of that win may be even greater by the end of this month, with Sunderland facing a daunting run of fixtures before the end of 2015.

Other than the visit of Watford in a fortnight, Sunderland face Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool - making back-to-back wins against Crystal Palace and Stoke a priceless boost for the Black Cats.

Allardyce added: “It relieves the pressure a bit, but it was critical looking at the next group of fixtures.

“These points are valuable whenever, but with this run of fixtures over Christmas, it’s going to be a huge task to pick up points like we have done recently.

“But this gives us a great confidence boost now.”