PAOLO DI CANIO believes a “poison” of complacency had crept into his players after being heralded as heroes following back-to-back wins.
The six points gleaned from the Tyne-Wear derby and the Stadium of Light encounter against Everton transformed Sunderland’s prospects in the relegation battle.
The Black Cats’ chances of survival were then further strengthened when third-bottom Wigan were pegged back in the last minute by Spurs last Saturday before neighbours Newcastle were thumped 6-0 at Liverpool later in the day.
But head coach Di Canio says those factors combined to take the edge off Sunderland’s hunger in Monday night’s trip to fellow strugglers Aston Villa, as the Italian suffered the heaviest defeat of his managerial career.
“Complacency was one of the reasons (for the 6-1 defeat), to add to others,” said Di Canio.
“We had two wins in a row and were big heroes in the city.
“A poison developed, albeit a positive one, after two wins in a row.
“Then, after the weekend results for Wigan and Newcastle, we knew we were up if we won the game.
“In the way we analysed the game on Tuesday, there was an agreement that we relaxed too much after seeing the results for Wigan and Newcastle.
“The results were good for us in a way, but they were a poison for the performance at Villa Park.
“You can see that we received a strong slap from Aston Villa.
“We have to make sure that doesn’t happen again, otherwise we will remain in trouble.”
Di Canio also questions whether Sunderland’s players were mentally tired from their efforts against the Magpies and Toffees at Villa Park, with little option to rotate a threadbare squad.
But he is confident that his squad has re-focused in time for Monday night’s visit of Stoke City.
“We haven’t played with many players or rotated them,” added Di Canio.
“The players we’ve used have mainly been the same.
“That looks like an excuse, but it’s not, because I knew before I took this team that we didn’t have many players.
“But there wasn’t a habit to win two games in a row, after nine games without winning, including Chelsea.
“Then to win at Newcastle after 13 years, the players know about the club’s history, especially the ones who live around here.
“And then after the Everton win, we had nine days to think about things.
“We’d spent a lot of physical and mental energy and relaxed 20 per cent. But now we’re OK.”