Goalkeeper Vito Mannone has urged Sunderland to use the EFL Cup to belatedly launch their season before it spirals out of control.
The 28-year-old Italian keeper is a veteran of the club’s 2013-14 League Cup campaign, which saw them defeat Manchester United in the semi-finals before losing to Manchester City at Wembley in the midst of a remarkable surge to Premier League safety under then manager Gus Poyet.
Three seasons on, the Black Cats welcome Shrewsbury to the Stadium of Light on Wednesday evening in a state of flux once again with new boss David Moyes attempting to steer the club through a pointless start to the new season while at the same time attempting to negotiate a difficult transfer window and an early injury crisis.
Mannone said: “I was very, very happy with what we did in that cup run. I think it has stuck with the fans and with me, that Old Trafford night and making the final.
“It’s an important competition where, from my experience, we started to play well. It was like a kind of training for the league, so it builds your confidence, it gives games to most of the boys in the team and if you do well, you do well in the league.
“We need to treat it like this, as a competitive game, as a league game again because we need to win on Wednesday if we want to win on Saturday. You can’t do badly on Wednesday and do perfectly on Saturday.”
Sunderland’s need grew significantly on Sunday when, after a creditable display in defeat at City on the opening day, they went down 2-1 at home to promoted derby rivals Middlesbrough on Sunday having conceded twice before the break.
There were mitigating factors – Moyes was without the services of Lamine Kone, Lee Cattermole, Jan Kirchhoff, Billy Jones, Fabio Borini and Sebastian Larsson through injury and lost skipper John O’Shea before the break.
And with Younes Kaboul having left for Watford in the run-up to the game, Kone’s future uncertain and the summer transfer market proving difficult, he had little choice to field a team low on experience.
There was a debut for Papy Djilobodji, an £8million arrival from Chelsea, and starts for youngsters Donald Love, Paddy McNair, Lynden Gooch, Adnan Januzaj and Duncan Watmore, and while there were positive signs from some of them, the sum of the parts was ultimately short of what was required.
That said, the home side dominated until Cristhian Stuani blasted the visitors into a 13th-minute lead, and his second on the stroke of half-time proved decisive despite Patrick van Aanholt’s strike 19 minutes from time.
Mannone said: “In the last week, you lose important players through injuries, whatever it is, I don’t even know, so you find yourselves with different players, and the players who have just come in have to step in in a difficult game like today.
“The only thing we can do is work, as I have always said, work together, follow the manager. We don’t have a long time – there’s another game on Wednesday. We have to win that, start to build our confidence and go into Southampton with confidence again.
“In the City game, we saw good things; in this game in the second half, you saw good things, so the only thing you need to do is do well for yourself and for this team and for the club.”