PAOLO Di Canio defended his fledgling Sunderland record yesterday, as the Black Cats headed into the last week of the season with their Premier League future still hanging in the balance.
Some of the Italian head coach’s tactics – notably starting both the last two home games with James McClean on the right wing – have come under critical scrutiny.
And there was no disguising the disappointment at the final whistle of fans who had hoped Sunderland would secure their Premier League status yesterday with a home victory over Southampton.
But while Di Canio – who had to settle for a 1-1 draw and saw his side slip to fourth-bottom spot – accepts that nothing has been achieved yet, he feels that the efforts produced in recent weeks deserve recognition.
“Eight points in six games is my record and I remain fully confident that we will stay up,” he said.
“I have been here only five weeks, but, considering the situation we came into, I think that eight points achieved by these players is a miracle.
“I would happily have settled for eight points in six games when I first took over.
“Remember, I did not have Steven Fletcher and Lee Cattermole available when I first came in, and lately I have not had Stephane Sessegnon and Craig Gardner.
“I have to tell you, the players we have had available, they did a fantastic job in my opinion.
“When I got here, I knew the quality we had in our squad was exciting – players like Adam Johnson and Stephane Sessegnon and others – but the environment was dead.
“Now I can tell you it is not.”
Sunderland are four points clear of FA Cup winners Wigan, who must now win their last two matches – at Arsenal tomorrow and at home to Aston Villa – to have a chance of survival because of the Black Cats’ vastly superior goal difference.
As for the Southampton game, Di Canio accepted what he could not change – that Sunderland had not played well but had least got themselves another point.
“We took a small step towards safety against Southampton,” he sniffed.
“And I have to be happy with that because Southampton played better football than us.
“I was unhappy with our display, because we should have paid more attention and shown more desire in the game itself.
“But at least we got something out of the game.
“It’s a step, but only a medium step.
“It is not enough and it’s difficult.
“But once again, this one step could be enough – like the Stoke one was.”
Di Canio’s side visit Tottenham, still in the hunt for a Champions League place, in Sunday’s final match of the campaign.