Winless teams meet
21 September ~ Paolo di Canio’s second game as Sunderland manager was an impressive 3-0 drubbing of local rivals Newcastle. His fourth game in charge was embarrassing 6-1 thrashing at the hands of Aston Villa. Sunderland haven’t won in the seven games since that thumping in Birmingham. Their vastly remodelled team arrives back in the West Midlands today to play West Bromwich Albion – the only other club without a victory this season. This clash between the bottom two seems an ideal time to get that first win. If only it was so easy.
It’s far too early in the year to be talking about must-win games, but today’s match could set the scene for either side for the season ahead. Many things have already been said about Di Canio’s personality, coaching style or chances of success. What can’t be denied is that he likes to talk. So far he’s discussed implementing a revolution at the club by banning ketchup and iced drinks, as well as demanding his team plays less “empty in the brain” after a depressing 3-1 defeat to Crystal Palace. Yesterday he urged his players to take responsibility for playing at their best.
Earlier in the week he targeted West Brom’s new signing – and one of Sunderland’s best players of recent years – who will make his debut against us today. Many Sunderland fans, myself included, were dismayed to see the club sell talented but frustrating Stéphane Sessègnon to a direct rival on deadline day. The sale appeared to be due to cost-cutting exercises.
But Di Canio this week claimed the 2011-12 Player of the Season was let go as he “didn’t care” and was no longer capable of “giving his best”. Annoyance at Sessègnon’s misdemeanours – a drink-driving charge on the night he was rested for a Capital One Cup tie – is completely understandable. But it seemed an odd time for Di Canio to attack the player. Sunderland fans know all about Sessègnon’s inconsistency, but he needs no motivation to have an excellent game today.
Di Canio signed 14 players over the summer and they obviously need time to play together. But time is running out to avoid getting mired in a relegation battle before the start of winter. The fixture list hasn’t been kind either. After this game we play Man Utd and Liverpool at home, before a trip to Swansea and then the visit of Newcastle at the end of October. An ominous thought is still counting points on one hand after defeat in the derby. The joy of April’s win at St James' Park would be completely flipped on its head – and we’d be bottom of the league.
Last time out, Sunderland put in a decent second-half performance against Arsenal and Jozy Altidore’s equaliser was denied by a dreadful refereeing mistake by Martin Atkinson. On the other hand, if several chances had fallen to anyone other than Theo Walcott, the Gunners could have been a few goals ahead by half time.
Looking on the bright side, Sunderland have John O’Shea back from suspension and our biggest signing of the summer, Italy international Emanuele Giaccherini, has recovered from injury. West Brom haven’t won this season either and only snatched a draw against Fulham in injury time. Both sides need a victory, and a draw really isn’t good enough. But supporters of the two teams might just accept one point before kick-off. It’s better than nothing. Ed Upright