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Why Sunderland Must Capitalise On Di Canio Feel-Good Factor

Sunday's emphatic win over Newcastle has lifted the mood and put us one step closer to Premier League safety, so we ponder what is in store for Sunderland this summer?

Stu Forster

Dissecting emotion from Paolo Di Canio may well be impossible, especially just days after orchestrating a 3-0 victory for his Sunderland side over rivals Newcastle United. The images of Di Canio at the centre of a rapturous red-and-white huddle at St. James' Park are already becoming folklore - his affectionate slap to greet each of his players portraying a bond rapidly developing.

Whilst the euphoria the result created will propel Sunderland into another crucial match against Everton on Saturday - Di Canio's first home game in charge - a little over a fortnight ago the same players were damned - both by the previous manager and a large proportion of the fan base. It resurfaces the question of just what will happen on Wearside this summer.

Indirectly, it was made clear that Sunderland fans were not the only ones unhappy with how the season was panning out. Suggestions in the local media that Chairman Ellis Short had grown tired of footing the bill for significant outlays on players - whilst clubs of a similar calibre were making more resourceful and, ultimately, more productive acquisitions - pointed to a scouting overhaul in the summer. Martin O'Neill was still expected to be part of the plan right up until kick-off against Manchester United - what followed was tipping point.

The general consensus amongst fans, O'Neill, and supposedly Short, was that the wretched campaign this season had become would pave the way for something more substantial; the light at the end of a tunnel that had become ever darker since the end of January being a summer in which O'Neill's convictions on this squad coincided with several decisions to be made on player contracts.

The O'Neill narrative of this season became increasingly contradictory: a squad short on numbers and quality saw more leave than arrive in January. Ultimately, O'Neill followed those through the exit and in his place stands a man not only with fresh ideas and enthusiasm, but a fresh perspective on the squad he has inherited.

Di Canio was willing to give Kader Mangane his Sunderland debut on Sunday, despite having Matt Kilgallon available and had depended on him in the previous game against Chelsea. He was undaunted about the prospect of naming not one but two untried teenagers on the bench; the importance of the situation overruling any false sense of achievement that being a first-team substitute may carry, something which O'Neill had repeatedly justified a six-man bench with. He also has far less time to make a judgement than O'Neill did, and has a similar character that the former Aston Villa manager threatened when installed - an articulate, confident persona that would transcend to his charges.

That a large part of this squad is going through a second evaluation process, almost a year after O'Neill chose not to address deficiencies that had been masked by an upturn in performances, is evidence enough that the positivity Di Canio has inspired needs to be capitalised on with an increase in quality in key areas. The early O'Neill displays saw Sunderland energised and inspired, in its final days O'Neill's Sunderland were tired, bereft of ideas and confidence.

And that is where this summer becomes even more pivotal for Sunderland. Throughout the season it was long the source of salvation; the new Premier League TV deal, a squad ripe for improvement and an opportunity to draw a line under a season that promised so much. Short sharpened his pencil to protect the former from escaping his grasp, and in doing so salvaged the club from aimlessly wandering through games and stumbling into the bottom three. His decision to change the manager almost instantly vindicated by the manner of Sunday's success, and what is more encouraging is that Di Canio is aware that work not only needs to be done in the present but already has designs on how to improve what he has to work with.

Whilst Craig Gardner's notion that ‘everyone tries harder when a new manager comes in' flags up O'Neill's initial impact on Wearside, the contrast in styles on the training pitch suggests that Di Canio will not let Sunderland stray from his well-drilled plans. It is a delightful twist of fate that has seen the same players who have been the cause of much frustration become protagonists in the greatest derby victory in over a quarter of a century, but Di Canio cannot afford to allow history to repeat itself.

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