Will Mannone or Pantilimon be Sunderland’s No 1?

Costel Pantilimon (right) with Vito Mannone in Portugal

Costel Pantilimon (right) with Vito Mannone in Portugal

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ADAM JOHNSON does not envy Gus Poyet in deciding who will start this season as Sunderland number one.

Arguably the biggest selection dilemma facing Sunderland boss Poyet for tomorrow’s opening Premier League encounter at West Brom is the identity of his first-choice goalkeeper after the summer capture of Costel Pantilimon.

Fans favourite Vito Mannone was crowned Sunderland Player of the Year last season after playing a key role in the Black Cats’ resurgence, following his introduction into the starting XI in November.

But Pantilimon arrived on a Bosman deal from Premier League champions Manchester City in the summer, with the Romanian international thought to have been signed with a view to being first choice at the Stadium of Light.

Sunderland winger Johnson says the battle between the two stoppers has been a topic of conversation among the rest of the Black Cats squad, but they have been unable to predict who Poyet will pick.

Johnson said: “It’s difficult isn’t it?

“We were just talking about it the other day and we don’t know what the gaffer will do.

“It’s so hard to call.

“It’s competition for Vito, who was excellent last season. It’s going to be a good battle between themselves.

“Costel played a few times at City last season and Vito has been at Arsenal, so they’re two players who’ve been at big clubs.

“They will want to both be number one.”

Johnson was a team-mate of Pantilimon’s for his first season at City after the 6ft 8in stopper arrived, initially on loan, from Romanian outfit FC Poli Timisoara.

Pantilimon was restricted to just four cup appearances during that opening campaign at the Etihad, before becoming slightly more involved as an alternative to England keeper Joe Hart.

But despite Pantilimon’s lack of first-team action at City - the main factor behind his decision to pen a four-year deal at Sunderland - Johnson is well aware of the 27-year-old’s capabilities.

“We always had a bit of banter with him at City calling him ‘massive’ all the time,” added Johnson.

“But he’s going to be a good signing for us.