Vito Mannone is back and fired up for the challenge of reclaiming his No 1 spot at Sunderland from Jordan Pickford.
The 28-year-old played his first competitive game since August in the Under-23s’ Checkatrade Trophy win against Notts County after recovering from elbow surgery.
And Mannone is now targeting a return to the Sunderland first team.
He has a tough task on his hands to reclaim the jersey, though, with 22-year-old Pickford in superb form since stepping in at the end of August.
The Washington-born stopper’s form earned him another call-up to the England squad, ahead of tonight’s World Cup qualifier against Scotland.
But confident Mannone is inspired by the challenge of reclaiming his spot.
“For me, I left the pitch when I was No 1 and I am still No 1 in my mind,” said Mannone.
“I want to be back. I haven’t been fit in the last couple of months and haven’t been on the pitch to compete.
“As I was injured, I couldn’t do anything about it.
“Now I’m back, I can push and hopefully get my place back and prove to the manager I am still number one.
“For me, it is a challenge every day. Playing for my life and playing for myself and my family.
“At the end of the day, I want to help this team and I want to help this club going forward and give something to the fans who come in great numbers every time to watch us.
“That is all I am hoping to do in my career. I don’t mind the challenges, I always take them on board and come out as a winner.
“That is my mentality.”
Mannone was in goal for the 2-1 Premier League defeats to Manchester City and Middlesbrough at the start of the season before going under the surgeon’s knife after rupturing elbow ligaments in training.
Sunderland suffered a further eight games without a victory – breaking a club record for the worst ever start – before the 2-1 win over Bournemouth at the weekend.
It has been a tough baptism of fire for Pickford, but the England Under-21 cap has starred in goal.
When asked if he had been impressed, Mannone said: “Yes, Jordan has done OK. Obviously he is a young lad who has come into the team and it is never easy, like any young player who had to come in.
“We faced 10 tough games at the beginning of the season and finally we won one game last week. We really needed it. It is never easy as a goalkeeper when you come in and the Premier League is very tough – they don’t leave you time to improve and get the experience.
“I have been facing tough challenges in my career. At Arsenal, I learned my way in when I was a young boy, like Jordan.
“It was a big club with big keepers, that was the most difficult challenge for me to break through.
“When I came here as well, there have been a few challenges and I think I came out on top nearly every time, so hopefully there is another one ahead!”
The 6ft 2in Italian has been a frustrated spectator from the sidelines in recent months, with Sunderland struggling in the Premier League.
“The most frustrating thing is not playing and helping the team to get the results,” added Mannone.
“That is the hardest thing, I always play with my heart and to see the team suffering and the fans is not nice. You can’t do anything about it when you are not on the pitch.
“You just have to take it. The mood has been great since Bournemouth. We needed that.
“It is a big boost – we need to take that into the next few games and we are going to face some tough games very soon.
“The team has to be ready for that, to step up to the challenge. We need points.”
Mannone completed 90 minutes alongside Seb Larsson, who is making his way back from knee surgery, in the 2-1 win over Notts County.
“It is the reward at the end of a tough period.
“I pushed myself so hard to be back as soon as possible,” added Mannone, who could return to the first-team squad for next weekend’s crunch visit of Hull City.
“It is great for Seb to be back sooner than he expected as well.
“They told me 12 to 14 weeks, I came back on eight weeks, so it is thanks to those who have helped me.
“I think that the mindset was the main thing; being positive and facing it like another challenge.
“I just want to face more challenges ahead.”