PAOLO Di Canio has challenged Sunderland to score enough goals to get out of relegation trouble despite seeing their biggest threat confined to the treatment room.
Eleven-goal striker Steven Fletcher’s season was prematurely over long before the Italian was handed the reins at the Stadium of Light as predecessor Martin O’Neill packed his bags.
However, far from bemoaning the loss of O’Neill’s £12million summer signing, Di Canio has simply ordered the men he has left behind to do what they do further up the pitch to provide his team with a greater goal threat.
That was a familiar theme too during the latter days of the Ulsterman’s reign, but it paid swift and glorious dividends on Sunday when the Black Cats struck three times without reply to clinch a famous derby win at Newcastle.
Di Canio said: “It will help to create more chances.
“People like (Adam) Johnson, who in the past used to run 70 yards with the ball and then arrive at the edge of the box and be empty in the legs without the chance to strike – maybe now there will be a chance that sometimes he can get the ball near the box and use his talent and maybe strike on goal.
“It’s exactly the same on the other side with James (McClean) or Sebastian (Larsson).
“From the middle, one midfield player always has to attack the edge of the box so with a rebound, we are not 60 yards or 40 yards from the goal, we are close.
“The mechanism and the system will help this team to cancel out the fact that we don’t have a top scorer who can turn the game on his own.
“In any instance near the box, we are going to find a way to score, I am sure.
“The fitness has grown a bit and the belief is higher that we are going to score enough goals to stay up.”
O’Neill was acutely aware of his side’s attacking problems – they scored only six goals in his last eight games at the helm and even Fletcher, who played in seven of them, could manage just a single strike, and that in a 3-1 defeat at QPR.
But in just two outings since his arrival at the Stadium of Light, Di Canio has witnessed four, the first of them admittedly an own goal by Chelsea defender Cesar Azpilicueta.
However, it will be the manner in which the players responded to his orders at St James’ Park which will have pleased the 44-year-old most.
Stephane Sessegnon’s opener came courtesy of an enterprising surge in-field from a wide position and a sweet strike from distance, and Johnson’s second arrived in similar style.
The third, a beautifully precise curling finish by substitute David Vaughan, summed up a fresh attitude, players prepared to accept the responsibility to advance into attacking positions and take a chance, something which happened with decreasing regularity and dwindling confidence as O’Neill’s exit approached.
Di Canio said: “Before this game, there were people who are real warriors thinking, ‘If we lose against Newcastle, we stay down there. What’s going on? We are maybe going to lose some places’.
“I said, ‘Calm. We are going to win, we are going to relax, recover energy and maybe we can go out [of trouble] earlier than we thought’.
“But once again, it’s a little step, it’s a very, very important little step forward.”