Chris Young’s big-match verdict: A weight has been lifted!

Sunderland's Giaccherini scores the first goal of the night against Peterborough.
Sunderland's Giaccherini scores the first goal of the night against Peterborough.
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NO GRANDIOSE words of inspiration were needed from Kevin Ball when Sunderland’s players assembled in the Stadium of Light dressing room.

Such had been the burden of mental torture lifted from Sunderland’s players, it was sufficient for the ex-Black Cats skipper to allow his temporary charges to simply enjoy themselves.

The body language, a stark contrast from the resigned faces at the Hawthorns on Saturday, said it all about what Sunderland’s players thought about life after Paolo Di Canio.

From the hand-shakes with the door staff – a big no-no under Di Canio – to the widespread applause to supporters when they emerged from the tunnel, and the wholescale celebrations following Emanuele Giaccherini’s opener, the weight of Di Canio verbal battering had evidently been lifted.

In that respect, Ball’s job was made much easier.

But what became Sunderland’s most complete performance of the season wasn’t solely down to player power.

Ball had a hand in it and it inevitably begged the question of whether the interim head coach – as he has been crowned – is a serious contender for the permanent position.

The 48-year-old’s former team-mates certainly think he should be among the runners and riders, Niall Quinn publicly expressing his support yesterday.

But as they prudently take their time casting around for suitable successors to Di Canio, Sunderland’s board would be negligent not to consider it as a possibility.

Certainly, Ball has never lacked popularity on Wearside and a chorus of “Ooh Bally, Bally” immediately rang around the sparsely populated Stadium of Light once Valentin Roberge had put the game to bed last night with his pinpoint header.

And unlike the other contenders, Sunderland don’t need to do any due diligence with Ball.

They know his credentials, the near-decade he has spent coaching at the Academy of Light and the unwavering passion he boasts for this football club.

Ball didn’t do his chances any harm last night either.

Wisely, Ball turned to the old heads in his squad who have been through this all before, albeit never in such extreme circumstances.

Back came the likes of Seb Larsson, Carlos Cuellar and Lee Cattermole, with the latter pair both making their first starts of the season.

It worked.

Peterborough offered surprisingly little resistance considering their recent form in League One, yet Sunderland showed in their second round victory over MK Dons that they were well capable of struggling against third tier opposition.

But the Black Cats still dominated from start to finish, and could have won by a far more handsome margin.

Cuellar introduced a familiarity into the back-line and the greater harmony sparked a first clean sheet of the campaign.

And Larsson worked well as an inverted winger down the left-hand side, albeit Peterborough offered a helping hand down either flank by leaving their full-backs two-on-one against Sunderland’s operators on the flanks.

But Cattermole was the member of the trio who really shone.

There were slack passes, befitting a player who had not started a competitive game since February, and there were more telling ones - a cross on a plate for Giaccherini’s first half goal.

Yet it was the leadership and drive in the middle of the park offered by Cattermole which Sunderland have been missing so clearly this season.

Despite being stripped of the captaincy by Di Canio, Cattermole continues to be the natural leader of this side.

Finally, there was someone shouting at his team-mates and issuing instructions from the middle of the park.

The prospect of a Cattermole/Ki Sung-Yeung double-act is one which harbours potential too; they are a naturally complementary duo.

Cattermole looked to be out of puff at times during the first half – understandable given the length of his lay-off – but he will reap the rewards from completing 90 minutes for the first time since November.

Surely a first Premier League start of the campaign will follow for the former skipper on Sunday.

The team shape will continue too.

Ball used the formation he has practised for the Under-21s this season – two inverted wingers and a three-man midfield, with one of them in an advanced role behind the striker.

Playing in that free role behind Jozy Altidore suited Emanuele Giaccherini to a tee.

It wasn’t just the weight of Di Canio’s removal which saw Giaccherini shine.

When used out wide, the Italian has been out-muscled and the 28-year-old doesn’t possess the pace to burst beyond his full-back.

But in the hole, he could use his nous to pick out pockets of space and he linked up effectively with Altidore, albeit he spurned a gilt-edged opportunity from six yards before netting his goal.

With Fabio Borini ineligible to face Liverpool on Sunday, the Altidore and Giaccherini partnership will surely remain as the front two this weekend.

Should Ball oversee a unexpected positive result against Liverpool, his credentials will receive a further boost.

Realistically though, facing Liverpool is a completely different ball game, no pun intended.

As these players have proved before too, what they can do in the early days under a new manager is not necessarily an indication of what they produce in the long-term.

Ball will remain the long-shot, the rank outsider who would need a remarkable game against Liverpool and possibly Manchester United, to be a firm contender.

But if Sunderland do turn to another, then a place in the new first-team coaching set-up for Ball, is not the most ludicrous of suggestions.