Football Echo Verdict: Bright signs, but Sunderland need a victory to kick-start revolution

Sunderland debutant Ondrej Celustka takes on Fulham's Matthew Briggs. Picture by Kevin Brady
Sunderland debutant Ondrej Celustka takes on Fulham's Matthew Briggs. Picture by Kevin Brady
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FOR ALL Paolo Di Canio’s Churchillian words about his widesweeping reforms at the Academy of Light, his “revolution” needs momentum to sweep away the lingering memory of relegation dogfights.

Momentum among supporters to instil a genuine sense of belief that Di Canio will transform this club’s journey from stagnation to real progress, even if they turned up in their numbers again yesterday.

And momentum among the players themselves to see that Di Canio’s militant approach at the training ground brings tangible rewards.

There were more than a handful of hopeful signs among the recruits charged with spearheading this Sunderland revolution, particularly in the first half of yesterday’s 1-0 sickener.

Jozy Altidore showed that he will add a physical element to the Sunderland forward line, albeit he was desperately lacking support from an off-colour Stephane Sessegnon.

Cabral looks an adept performer in the middle of the park, while Valentin Roberge was composed at the back, until he allowed Pajtim Kasami to get above him so easily for Fulham’s smash and grab winner.

But, for all the promise, Sunderland were still lacking a cutting edge.

The overwhelming majority of Sunderland’s efforts came from outside the area and as the Black Cats desperately chased the game, they resorted to the long punt which proved routine for Brede Hangeland.

What ultimately cost Di Canio’s side was their failure to make the most of their first-half control.

Sunderland enjoyed long spells of possession and used both wingmen effectively, with Emanuele Giaccherini not afraid to drift from his flank and providing an overlapping option for Adam Johnson on the opposite side.

Cabral, meanwhile, was the dominant central midfielder and set the tempo for the hosts.

But the Black Cats just needed a final scything pass to make their possession count and it never came.

For all Altidore looked bright when he was involved, he didn’t see enough of the ball and Sunderland’s threat overwhelmingly came from outside of the area.

That could have materialised into a stunning debut goal for Ondrej Celustka, if it hadn’t been for an equally impressive save from new Fulham stopper Maarten Stekelenburg.

But, for all the industry, energy and demonstration of far brighter ideas than the Martin O’Neill era, Sunderland’s threat in the box was minimal.

Once Kasami got above Roberge to meet Damien Duff’s corner for the softest of openers, the ghosts of last season began to re-appear.

Altidore tried to drag Sunderland back into the game, almost single-handedly, and provided some awkward moments for Hangeland and Aaron Hughes, as Di Canio’s men chased the game in the closing stages.

Undoubtedly, the return of Steven Fletcher will benefit the American striker more than most, by sharing the goal burden around.

Had substitute Ji Dong-won’s 89th-minute opportunity fallen to Fletcher, rather than the South Korean, then you fancy that Sunderland would have taken the point that they deserved.

It is imperative that Sunderland don’t let one defeat de-rail them and Di Canio’s project undoubtedly needs time to reap rewards.

Yet the Black Cats are also in need of encouragement in the wins column to demonstrate that this really is a new era.

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