Costel Pantilimon’s form for Sunderland has impressed Sam Allardyce immensely since his arrival at the club, the Black Cats boss has admitted.
The Romanian keeper has been in outstanding form of late and has played a big part in Sunderland’s back-to-back league victories, with clean sheets in both matches helping lift the Black Cats out of the Premier League’s relegation zone.
Sunderland’s 2-0 win on Saturday came thanks to goals from Patrick van Aanholt and Duncan Watmore – but the platform for the victory was provided by Pantilimon, who produced an outstanding save to prevent Jonathan Walters handing Stoke the lead.
“It was an outstanding save,” Allardyce told the Sunderland Echo.
“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.”