Di Canio pinpoints positives after Fulham defeat, convinced Sunderland are on right track

Paolo Di Canio.
Paolo Di Canio.

“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs...” Rudyard Kipling.

PAOLO Di Canio’s first home defeat as Sunderland manager was hardly the way to debut his “revolution” at the Stadium of Light.

After a summer or squad change, exhaustive preparation and even more exhaustive pre-season training, the Italian was desperate for an opening-day victory over Fulham which would give early validation to his radical approach.

But though that task proved beyond him and his players, he refused to believe afterwards that his team is anything other than on the right path, and he believes fans will believe that too.

“There was only one team playing football, only one team trying to win the game, so I have to be happy with that,” he said.

“I was happy with our possession, happy with the way we played from the back and, overall, we played well, but we needed a bit more and we are working on that.

“I know what we want to do here – it is clear to me – and I was pleased with the way we played, if not the result.

“Fulham played 4-5-1 and were difficult to break down and we also had the pressure of being at the new stadium.

“But I am happy because I think the fans understand what happened on the day – we dominated a game and maybe put something like 30 balls into the box and I won’t change for the sake of a game we dominated completely but lost 1-0.

“There are, though, things we can learn.”

Chief among those lessons is the need to be stronger and more aggressive in both penalty areas.

Against Fulham, Sunderland failed to prosper because no advanced player was able to successfully attack the ball into the box.

Ultimately however, what cost them was a poor defensive moment from Valentin Roberge.

And Di Canio says that the new signings, in particular, have to swiftly grasp that the Premier League is an unforgiving environment.

“I need them to learn quickly that they are in the best league in the world and it is a league with big physical players who excel on set pieces,” he said.

“It means we have to learn to mark aggressively and be nasty where we need to be.

“If we don’t learn from it, and think that the goal we conceded against Fulham was just an accident, then we will have a problem.

“We don’t have to be elegant in every area of the field – there are times when we need to be strong, put our foot or our head in and we need to be more nasty in the future.

“I am confident, though, that the players will learn from this.

“Probably we have to work in players’ heads and teach them that don’t have to be elegant in every phase of the game.

“They have to be strong, attack, put their feet and heads forward, dive at the ball when they need to, be nasty, take risks.

“That is what the Premier League requires.”