PAOLO DI CANIO has taken a swipe at predecessor Martin O’Neill by claiming Sunderland would have been relegated without a change in the dug-out, writes Chris Young.
Di Canio achieved his short-term remit for Sunderland last week when the Black Cats’ Premier League status was assured after FA Cup winners Wigan were condemned to the final spot in the bottom three.
But when the Italian was appointed Sunderland head coach seven weeks ago, that looked a tall order, after an eight-game winless streak had sent the Wearsiders plummeting towards the drop zone.
Di Canio believes that if owner Ellis Short had not pulled the plug on O’Neill, then Sunderland would now be facing up to life in the Championship.
When asked whether Sunderland would have been relegated without him, Di Canio replied: “I think yes. I have to be honest.
“In my opinion, six games ago this team was down.
“Stephane Sessegnon had one goal in six games. Under me, he got two goals in four games.
“The improvement was 1.3 points per game instead of one point per game. We would have finished top 10.
“We have got eight points in six games without a striker, with Steven Fletcher, the top scorer, injured and (Lee) Cattermole out for a long time.
“The environment was down. In my opinion, this team was down.
“Some people said I would be too hard and would stress the players, but we have recovered the mental energy.”
Di Canio is confident next season will have a different complexion for Sunderland, free from relegation angst.
Yet the same was said by former QPR boss Mark Hughes last May before what has been a disastrous season at Loftus Road.
“I don’t know what happened with Mark Hughes and QPR, but under me it will be different for sure,” said Di Canio.
“Maybe in another year you think you can point the finger and say he said that.
“It’s never going to happen. I’m fully confident we can write a different story here.
“I am sure about myself.
If we did what we did in the last few weeks without many options and changing a few things, and if I have a chance to build my team in the way I want to see my team play with my players, I’m sure it will be a magic combination.
“I’m sure with me, my staff, this environment, the fans, there are all the important ingredients there to have a fantastic season.”
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