Captain's Blog: Sunderland Must Not Punch Gift Horse In The Mouth

Matthew Lewis

The buzz is still palpable following the demolition derby but Sunderland must not simply revel in it - they must take advantage of it.

People have talked about change at Sunderland for a long time. In fact, since just about as far back as I can remember supporting the club, I can remember reading about people promising to change it.

In my mind's eye I can still see Bob Murray sat in the Roker Park boardroom in front of the Premier Passions cameras lamenting the club's ability to gravitate towards relegation and swearing to eradicate it.

Howard Wilkinson believed the secret to changing Sunderland lay in stock video footage of geese flying in formation. Niall Quinn was full of intent to change the mentality of the club. To give him his due, he got further than most, but he didn't achieve it.

Steve Bruce took a different stance and implored us to ‘not get above our station', but O'Neill then came in and talked a great game. He spoke of change as passionately as anyone else. Like everyone else, though, he delivered little of it.

Paolo Di Canio has spoken of change too, of course, but he hasn't promised the earth or anything. May be he just hasn't had the time for that. The message has been more one of righting immediate wrongs than attempting to alter the apparent DNA of the football club. He hasn't put a word wrong, in truth, but words are still ultimately cheap.

If you have designs on truly changing the attitudes and habits of Sunderland AFC, though, then presiding over a veritable derby day demolition of Newcastle United is certainly the way to go about it.

‘We don't turn up for derbies'. ‘The big decisions never go our way in these games'. ‘They always want it more than us'. ‘Shola always scores no matter what'. ‘Even if we do win we never batter them or owt'. It has taken Paolo Di Canio just 90 minutes of action to blow all of these ideas clean out of the water.

No words were used. No confessions of past pain or threats of victory playlists. Just football.

And don't let any of the Magpie moaning about a linesman's flag or Pardew's protestations of tiredness fool you - a battering is precisely what Sunderland delivered to their rivals in their own back yard last week.

Tactically they were immaculate, and that was aligned with both energy and efficiency. Some will even try and tell you that it was ‘lucky' that three screamers went in Newcastle's net, but each was a controlled finish having worked a good shooting position. Each were a product of Sunderland's clear superiority.

That moment - as great as it was - has passed now, but the opportunity to make it count for something tangible has never been greater.

The current challenge facing Sunderland is the other bogeyman - the dreaded Everton. In fact, Everton are probably even more dreaded than Newcastle. We play well and they beat us. They play well and they destroy us. They kick the ground and they get a penalty against us. The hoodoo the blue half of Merseyside has held over our club in recent times has been extraordinary.

What a chance Di Canio has to break that, though. Confidence will be sky high and with Everton battling through a big game in midweek the opportunity is rife to vanquish another bad habit.

If he can, of course, it would bring three points that would go a long way to breaking the ultimate Sunderland-ism of shooting ourselves in the foot and beating all the odds to grab relegation from the very jaws of opportunity.

This weekend is a sumptuous two-for-one offer. It is the kind of opportunity which in the past we have almost religiously responded to by placing an outstretched hand in its face, closing our eyes, and shouting ‘LA LA LA LA LA LA' at the top of our voices until it quietly gets sick and passes us by.

The kind of gift horse we usually punch in the mouth. Metaphorically, of course. Imagine how humiliating it would be to punch an actual horse. I digress.

The point is that a win this weekend can not just win precious points. It could provide the platform for the kind of change within the club people have been talking about for years. If Di Canio could achieve that in just three games, it would be an incredibly powerful statement. The kind of statement upon which legacies can be built.

This is Sunderland, of course, so we almost certainly won't make it happen. Just not our way. It's little more than a dream, really.

Still, that didn't stop Di Canio from making one a reality last week.

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