Vito Mannone delivers for Sunderland - showing all the youthful promise spotted by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger

The Italian played a crucial role in the Black Cats beating Manchester United to reach the Capital One cup final

Everyone knows about Birmingham City’s pyrrhic victory, about the team who won the League Cup in 2011 and paid for it with their Premier League status, which they are yet to regain. Sunderland players and fans will grow sick of those warnings over the next few weeks, but for now they can take great pride in their achievement of reaching Wembley and recent performances that suggest they can compete on more than one front.

Even though Sunderland remain in the relegation zone, they do have some momentum behind them. Beyond the famous League Cup victories over Chelsea and now Manchester United, their league form is improving too, with just one defeat in their last seven games.

Few players better encapsulate this commitment and improvement than Vito Mannone, the 25-year-old Italian goalkeeper and one of the heroes of Wednesday night’s penalty triumph over United. Mannone has been one of the better performers of the Gus Poyet era so far, displacing Keiren Westwood in goal in November and keeping hold of the position ever since.

Twice in his career – in the autumns of 2009 and 2012 – he has enjoyed a brief run in the Arsenal team, only to lose his place when more experienced goalkeepers returned to form or fitness. Twice he has gone on loan to Hull City. But only now, with Sunderland, under Poyet, is he finding his feet as a top-flight goalkeeper.

Was it really that bad? See for yourself in pictures

Mannone joined on a two-year deal from Arsenal in the summer and Arsène Wenger, who signed him from Atalanta nearly 10 years ago, was delighted yesterday to see him flourish at the highest level.

“I am very happy because it reminded me of when I saw him that I kept him here when he was 16 years of age and [gave him] a trial with the first team,” Wenger said. “I saw at that time that there was something special in him and it’s coming out now.”

The worst penalty shoot-out ever? Penalty-by-penalty analysis of Sunderland's Capital One Cup victory over Manchester United  

Poyet, unsurprisingly, was thrilled with the contribution of his chosen keeper, who saved spot-kicks from Adnan Januzaj and Rafael da Silva in the 2-1 shoot-out victory at Old Trafford.

“How did we do it? I think we need to ask Vito Mannone,” Poyet said. “I think he can personally answer that because he has been getting better and better and he was probably the difference between the two teams.”

Manchester United 2 Sunderland 1: Gus Poyet hails shootout hero Vito Mannone after dramatic victory sends Black Cats to Wembley

Mannone, a popular character wherever he has been, was warmly acclaimed by his team-mates for delivering them to Wembley. “When Vito got into the dressing room, the whole squad and staff started singing his name and there is no better feeling for a football player,” Poyet revealed. “He was half happy, half embarrassed. It was a special night for him.”

Or watch the video of the shoot-out below:

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