PAOLO Di Canio says his players have to be as mentally up for the game against West Brom tomorrow as they would be if they were facing the Premier League champions themselves.
The match at The Hawthorns pits bottom-of-the-league Sunderland against the team immediately above them, in the earliest of relegation six-pointers.
But Di Canio says that far from seeing it as a match against a fellow struggler, Sunderland’s players need to approach the game as if they were still playing a Champions League side, like Arsenal last week – where the Black Cats were so impressive in a second-half comeback.
The head coach said: “Tomorrow is a very important game for us, a real opportunity and it is obvious that we have to think positively and look to get points.
“It is important for us to give our all in games like these and make sure we are as focused as it is possible to be.
“If you are a player getting motivated to face a team like Manchester United, for example, it is never a problem because you know that you are up against a top, top team and have to be at your best.
“You know that if you’re not on your game it is going to be really tough.
“And you know that, in some ways, the pressure is off you because you’re not expected to beat Man United and that maybe frees you up to produce your best.
“So, against the teams around us in the league, we have to go in with the same approach, we have to play as if we are playing Manchester United, we have to bring our best game on match-day.
“It is crucial for us go there without worries and to perform as well as we can.”
Di Canio points out that the Black Cats have to look to get something positive from the game, not only for league position, but also for morale, after a league start which has yielded just one point from the first 12.
“We have to go to West Brom and perform and come away stronger, not weaker,” he explained.
“It’s not all about the victory and it is certainly not about Stephane Sessegnon, who we know from his time here – it is about us improving, about us being in a better place than we were the previous week.
“West Brom are a challenge.
“They have a simple system, but they are used to it and they play it with a high tempo and with two solid defensive midfielders providing the platform to help the others play.
“But we have our own system, which we are happy with and we have quality and will be confident.
“I’m looking forward to the game.
“If we start well and play with the right mentality, we have every reason to hope we can continue to improve.”