ONE of the most important battlegrounds for Sunderland in yesterday’s memorable derby win over Newcastle took place between the players’ ears!
Head coach Paolo Di Canio has worked non-stop since his arrival on Wearside just over a fortnight ago on changing the mentality of the players into a can-do one.
Into a winning one.
And the squad had to use all the mental strength they had absorbed from the indomitable Italian to ensure they were not intimidated either by their opponents or the intensely partisan home crowd yesterday.
Di Canio said: “Many players, what they gave, was special, especially considering the knocks and strains some of them have.
“Carlos Cuellar, for example, is one who had only trained the last few days after being out with an injury for some time. One or two other players had only been back for a day or two.
“And this result is made even more important because we have many injuries and it was vital the players available to us gave everything.
“There were mental battles out there we had to win.
“And I told them that we would win, that they would do it and maybe we would get out of the relegation battle a bit sooner than expected.”
Now Di Canio, whose next target is a home clash with bogey side Everton on Saturday, is desperate for his players to build on this success rather than resting on their laurels.
“As a single game, the derby is the most important game, but, as a manager, it is nothing if we don’t stay up,” he said.
“For sure, we have to stay up.
“Staying up means that our fans can look back and enjoy this result even more.
“It will also mean the players will be remembered and will go down in history – as they should do – they are heroes.
“On the day, we won 3-0 away from home, against Newcastle at St James’s Park and we kept a clean sheet.
“It’s a fantastic moment.”