Paolo Di Canio’s stint as Sunderland manager was short lived. It was both delightful as it was depressing. Intriguing as it was infuriating. Exciting as it was…erm…unforgettable. You will not get a more memorable 13 games out of any other manager – let me tell you that! As an ode to the Italian madman, we felt obliged to diarise his time in the hot seat.
The start pretty much reflected the middle and the end as his appointment was immediately greeted with intense negativity from our wonderfully poor press. Politics presided above the job he was taking but these claims were quickly rebuffed;
"Why do I have to apologise? I never made the statement, the media twisted something in a long interview, as I said yesterday. More than this, I cannot keep repeating and repeating for ever."
It would be a predictable feature for the rest of his tenure as the headlines all stemmed from his exocentric mouth. Here is how the matches he took charge of went;
Chelsea 2-1 Sunderland
It was an intriguing and slightly impressive start to life under Di Canio as went down to two of the luckiest goals you will ever see despite taking the lead just before the break. Little did we know this would form the basis of PDC’s ultimate down fall.
Newcastle 0-3 Sunderland
Tough not to rank this up there with the best moments supporting the lads. Visions of Di Canio racing down Wonga Arena’s touchline going ballistic after three of the best goals we scored all season. We’ll always have this Paolo, we will always have this.
Sunderland 1-0 Everton
It almost felt like we would beat anyone as Stephane Sessegnon managed to score the winner against a team we had not beaten in some 1,000 league matches. I have never seen so many people stay after full time just to see PDC walk onto the pitch and return the applause. This would be the last league win under the Italian.
Aston Villa 6-1 Sunderland
This is the part where we crashed back down to earth. It was just the beginning but the beginning of the end. Possibly the most humiliating thing to watch, live on Sky Sports, we were systematically ripped apart by a distinctly average footballing side.
Sunderland 1-1 Stoke City
A frustrating game and one which is as vivid as any for me. I recall the first 35 minutes were the worst I had witnessed for a little while, until Craig Gardner received his marching orders for a horror tackle and everything changed. We suddenly battled with the same grit our gaffer showed throughout his appointment and grinded out a very important point thanks to John O’Shea’s second half equaliser.
Sunderland 1-1 Southampton
This was almost mirrored by the away fixture from this season. We spent most of the game chasing midfielders before taking the lead through Phil Bardsley, who celebrated like a bit of a twat. Bardsley would be the first to truly clash with the egnomanic head coach. Jason Puncheon equalised after our defence chose to deny all belief that he was there.
Tottenham 1-0 Sunderland
Certainly not a fixture you would ever mark down as one we would win, but we spent the whole match watching Spurs like we did not belong there. Vaughan was sent off and although we defended astutely until the end – the world’s most expensive footballer Gareth Bale scored his last goal for Tottenham in emphatic style just before injury time. This match prompted an astonishing outburst from PDC in his press conference lasting a ridiculous 24 minutes – in part catalysed by Bardsley’s casino antics prior to the match. Although it astonishing, it was difficult to find fault with the points he was making;
"I don't want to change the culture of the people, but I told them the day before we will be more strict, I will judge you more carefully because now we need to improve"
Di Canio went on to sign fourteen new players during the transfer window. It is true that the individuals themselves would not have been chosen by him with the club’s new structure leaving that side of things firmly in the hands of behind the scenes staff. Even so, it seemed things were picking up for Sunderland in preparation for the new season after a reasonably impressive pre-season display.
Sunderland 0-1 Fulham
The new season would not start quite as planned despite the near perfect opening fixture. The performance was encouraging still, as we dominated Fulham throughout the game without taking advantage of our opportunities. In the end it was lapses in concentration for the Cottagers’ only corner which cost us the match. Cabral was excellent, although after a rumoured falling out with Di Canio, this would be one of just two appearances the former FC Basel midfielder would make.
Southampton 1-1 Sunderland
We all would have accepted this score line when the fixture list came out and on the balance of play – we would have taken it as well. We were outplayed though out, nicking the led through the nut of the smallest man on the pitch – Emanuele Giaccherini. The win was snatched from us at the death after yet more poor set piece defending. This would be the last point Di Canio would earn us.
Sunderland 4-2 MK Dons
The League Cup tie saw probably the most astonishing comeback I’ve ever seen from any Sunderland side. 2-0 down with no clues or ideas and just 12 minutes left – four goals came from absolutely nowhere and we found ourselves in the hat for the next round. This really felt like the turning point for brace scoring Connor Wickham, Jozy Altidore and Di Canio’s Sunderland…not to be.
Crystal Palace 3-1 Sunderland
This match saw the start of a quite astonishing run of bad luck which built up to PDC’s dismissal. 1-0 down at the break, we battled back bravely as Steven Fletcher scored as a second half substitute in his comeback appearance after a lengthy lay off. Captain O’Shea literally chucked away any opportunity for points, ludicrously lunging after mis-judging a simple bounce giving away a penalty and getting sent off in the process.
Much to our delight, Di Canio even managed a cameo appearance on the pitch for Steve Harper's testimonial match - scoring the deciding penalty!
Sunderland 1-3 Arsenal
We had an awful habit of refusing to turn up until the second half under Di Canio and this fixture was no different. We survived to half time just 1-0 down before mounting an unprecedented comeback – Craig Gardner equalising. Arsenal scored against the run of play before one of the poorest refereeing decisions you will ever see occurred. Altidore out-muscled Bacary Sagna, leaving him one against one with Wojciech Szczesny and scoring before Martin Atkinson robbed him of a perfectly good goal, refusing to play advantage awarding Sunderland a free kick. Astonishingly, Sagna was not sent off.
West Brom 3-0 Sunderland
In Di Canio’s last game as Sunderland manager it was rather fitting the player sold by us and accused of lacking conviction by PDC would put the nail in his coffin. Stephane Sessegnon opened the scoring before yet more hideous bad luck. Fletcher had the ball planted perfectly on his favoured left foot by Adam Johnson, blazing the sitter high over the bar and injuring himself in the process. As all of our substitutes were used, this led to us going down to ten men.
Despite disgruntled fans rightfully venting their anger at full time, the general consensus was that time was still on Di Canio’s side. Unfortunately, this would not be the case as he and the club ‘parted company’ at 9:30pm on Sunday evening with reports suggesting a training ground bust up was the last straw for Ellis Short and the rest of our hierarchy.
Paolo, it was fun and very, very frustrating. Ultimately, it was too short but thank you for everything, we won't be forgetting you anytime soon and I think speak on behalf of the huge majority of Sunderland fans in wishing you the best of luck. We will need some ourselves!
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