Sunderland’s Di Canio plays the numbers game

Paolo Di Canio during a training session.
Paolo Di Canio during a training session.
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PAOLO DI CANIO has set a minimum quota of four red and white shirts in the opposition box to reverse Sunderland’s lean streak.

Sunderland have netted just seven times in their nine-game winless run, with that meagre tally a major factor in the Wearsiders’ descent to the crest of the relegation zone.

The lack of attacking support has been a sorry theme throughout the season, with lone striker Steven Fletcher too often the only Black Cats player in the opposing penalty area.

It was a deficiency new head coach Di Canio immediately spotted after succeeding Martin O’Neill and one he has attempted to rectify on the training ground, without leaving Sunderland unnecessarily gung-ho.

But Di Canio believes the first half of last weekend’s defeat at Chelsea was evidence that his new players are grasping a more attacking philosophy.

Di Canio said: “I want to create chances and deliver a positive message.

“There was a moment when we had six men in the opponents’ box at Chelsea.

“If you attack with those players, you need discipline to have a balance, but I want to see a minimum of four players in the box. That is my mentality.

“I saw that straightaway at Chelsea. We created chances and scored a goal from a set-piece.

“I don’t want to exaggerate and say our performance at Chelsea was fantastic. But considering the circumstances and performances over recent weeks, it was fantastic in terms of discipline off-the-ball.

“Even when we regained the ball, we did very well.”

Sunderland’s attacking hopes have not been helped by the loss of eight-goal Craig Gardner for Sunday’s Tyne-Wear derby after the midfielder collected his 10th yellow card of the season at Stamford Bridge.

Although January recruit Danny Graham should be available after recovering from a knee problem, Gardner has been one of the few Sunderland players able to hold his head high over recent weeks.

Di Canio rates Gardner highly and sees the 26-year-old as integral to his long-term plans.

But on Sunday, Gardner will be with the travelling Sunderland supporters in the away stand at St James’s Park – a request Di Canio was happy to approve.

“I told Craig that he can go because he expressed the desire to experience the atmosphere,” added Di Canio. “I told him to be careful and watch where you go.

“It’s important that he’s safe, but I want to see him jump and celebrate among the fans. It’s easy for me to say yes because it happened to me when I used to play for Lazio.

“But Craig is a big loss for Sunday. I’ve said we don’t have to cry because we have enough good players.

“But for me, he’s one of the leaders of the group and in the future, he’s going to be a main part of the group.”