independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Di Canio's home comfort in Sunderland survival bid

Sunderland 1 Everton 0

Paolo Di Canio can’t contain his joy at the final whistle as Sunderland beat Everton 1-0 at the Stadium of Light to move six points clear of the relegation zone.

For this first appearance before an adoring home congregation, Paolo Di Canio was the animated cartoonish character of reputation. He also delivered.

Three invaluable points were the material return from the man who oozes charisma and is deadly serious about winning football matches.

Stephane Sessegnon will go down as the man who provided the first Stadium of Light strike – and winner – under Di Canio but this was a team effort that bodes well for Sunderland's relegation-cheating hopes as they now stand six points clear of the danger zone.

Everton had a late penalty appeal rejected when Nikica Jelavic and Danny Rose tangled in the area but they can have little complaints about a defeat that leaves their Champions League qualification hopes moribund.

"Thirty-seven points is not enough. If Wigan win their game in hand they'll be on 34 with four games to go," said De Canio. "Today was a step forward but the main job is not done."

At the end of a feverish afternoon the 44-year-old hugged many of his players before striding on to the empty pitch and saluting all corners of the ground. "Twenty-seven years I'm involved in football. The emotion was one of the best in the sports life for me.

"For many reasons – not only for the result and not only, which is the main part, because we won and we gave satisfaction to our fans. But because you know what happened a few weeks ago."

In his first programme notes since appointing Di Canio, Ellis Short had made no reference to the storm surrounding the Italian's arrival. However, he did not shirk the issue why Martin O'Neill was sacked. "Results and performances hadn't been good for over a year. Paolo is a training-ground coach. His very choice of title of head-coach rather than manager tells you a lot about him."

The nearest the owner ventured to the tricky subject of his manager's politics was in describing how Di Canio has been received at the club. "His confidence is also an asset and in the brief time he has been here the feedback from all areas of the club has only confirmed those qualities," wrote Short.

The cloud around Di Canio has now parted to reveal a side more vibrant than in the dog days of O'Neill's tenure but that still fumbles to apply instruction. Di Canio wants his players to press higher and quicker and move the ball faster. In the first half he implored them to do all of this while bemoaning the clumsy touch or errant pass that caused moves to falter.

On 32 minutes Everton's Kevin Mirallas was allowed to float inside to shoot at Simon Mignolet's goal. Di Canio turned to the bench to mime how defence and midfield had to get closer. Moments later, Adam Johnson hung on the last Everton man waiting for a quick pass to release him but Sebastian Larsson dawdled and the manager struck a hand in frustration.

The goal came from a Sessegnon burst. When Leighton Baines gave away possession the forward was a good distance out but was allowed to run before unloading from 30 yards to beat Howard. As the stadium exploded, Di Canio turned to share his arm-pumping, fist-clenching joy.

David Moyes's reaction was to take off Darron Gibson, a holding midfielder, for the forward Jelavic at half-time. Yet it was Sunderland who continued to impress. Even when Everton lined up an indirect free-kick inside Sunderland's area there was an inevitability about Baines's attempt being charged down with every subsequent scrambled clearance receiving an "Ole!" of approval.

Asked if he had been tempted to celebrate Sessegnon's finish the same way, Di Canio blamed his wardrobe. "I can't dive every time. Yesterday it was difficult to find another pair of trousers. The tailor came and they were too short. I say: 'No, you have to make sure I have the right ones. Otherwise I was going to wear the ones from last time'." Observer

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