HEAD coach Gus Poyet says his hardest selection decision of the weekend was in choosing who to start in goal against Manchester City on Sunday.
Keiren Westwood had been a Premier League ever-present for the Black Cats until his head injury at Hull City the previous week when he was substituted just before half-time.
Ex-Arsenal keeper Vito Mannone had replaced him at the KC Stadium and performed heroics in the second-half, which he followed up with an impressive performance in the cup victory over Southampton.
And as well as deciding to start with Steven Fletcher rather than Jozy Altidore and Seb Larsson instead of Craig Gardner, Poyet made the decision to stick with Mannone between the posts.
“Putting in Vito Mannone ahead of Keiren Westwood was the most difficult selection decision I had to make on the day - no doubt,” sighed Poyet, whose body language indicated how hard it had been to disappoint the Irishman.
“Was it fair?” he winced. “Was it fair on Keiren?
“I don’t know.
“I don’t know if it was the right decision to put in Vito over Keiren - I honestly don’t.
“But I am paid to make decisions and fortunately it paid off - otherwise I would be sitting here saying it was the wrong decision!”
Poyet’s choice was vindicated not only by Mannone’s assured display in the game against City but by the fact that Sunderland managed their first shut-out in the Premier League this season.
“The biggest thing from the game for me was the clean sheet,” grinned Poyet.
“I know people want to see open attacking football but you cannot afford to be open against opposition in the Premier League - especially not against opposition like Man City who had scored 12 goals in their previous two games.”
“And I think we got that clean sheet because we had belief.
“We had the spirit that saw us put our bodies on the line, make challenge after challenge and chase lost causes and that’s what you need in this game if you are to succeed.
“I think the second half against Hull gave us belief that we could do what we did against Manchester City.
“We showed basic concentration and belief there, and nine men kept out against 11.
“It was great what we managed to do at Hull and great that we took it into the game against Man City.
“But we need to do it all the time - we need to be convinced of what is possible.”