PAOLO DI CANIO is unlikely to turn to youth while Sunderland’s Premier League status remains on a knife-edge.
The Sunderland head coach will discover today whether he will be without the services of reigning Player of the Year Stephane Sessegnon for the final three games in the relegation scrap after the Benin forward was sent off in Monday’s 6-1 mauling at Aston Villa.
An independent regulatory commission was due to meet this afternoon to discuss Sessegnon’s dismissal after Sunderland formally lodged a claim for unfair dismissal with the Football Association yesterday.
But should Sessegnon’s suspension be upheld – as seems likely – then Di Canio faces a headache over his forward options for the back-to-back Stadium of Light encounters against Stoke and Southampton, followed by the final day trip to Spurs.
England Under-21 frontman Connor Wickham has been making progress in shaking off the calf problem that has kept him out for the last three games, but is still rated as a doubt to face the Potters in Monday night’s televised clash.
And with top scorer Steven Fletcher ruled out for the season, that leaves goalless January signing Danny Graham as Di Canio’s only recognised frontman available, with Craig Gardner or Adam Johnson possibly playing in the hole behind the £5million man.
The other option would be to hand a full debut to 18-year-old Mikael Mandron after the academy product made his first-team bow from the bench in the final stages at Villa Park.
With the outcome inevitable, Di Canio used the opportunity to blood Mandron and after entering the fray in the 86th minute, the French striker almost grabbed a consolation with a stoppage time header.
But with defeat keeping Sunderland immersed in the relegation scrap, five points above the bottom three, Di Canio believes experience is needed to secure the club’s Premier League survival.
“He’s (Mandron) trained with us during the week and he’s been on the bench,” said Di Canio.
“He’s a player with promise and sometimes you can use him. But it’s obvious, we’re at a crucial moment of the season and as much as I can, I would like to keep the players with pedigree and experience in there.
“He’s still young though and you never know.”
The introduction of Mandron handed Graham a brief breather after the former Middlesbrough striker has been forced to perform the often thankless donkey work at the peak of Sunderland’s attack in his three starts under Di Canio.
But while Di Canio acknowledges the work completed by Graham, he says the striker should be leaving the pitch exhausted.
Di Canio added: “Danny is tired of course because he runs everywhere for 90 minutes.
“At the end of the game, I hope my players are tired because it means they’ve given everything. It’s not an issue.”