Paolo Di Canio is already proving that he's different to any other manager Sunderland have had in recent years. Not only does his passion and character dominate the Stadium of Light, but he's already developing a knack from undoing the 'hoodoos' that had befallen his predecessors. Last week, he led the club to their first every Tyne & Wear derby win at St James Park in 13 years, his team outplaying their opposition in the process, and today the Black Cats managed their first over Everton since 2001. Sunderland had to fight hard for their win, and there were some very nervy moments, but the side held firm for a thoroughly deserved victory.
The players are also feeling the 'Di Canio' effect, looking much more confident; those that have under performed all season are starting to look the part again. Seb Larsson, a man whose set-piece delivery has gone horrendously off the boil this season, had three excellent efforts within the first half alone, as his free-kick abillity came back to him. His first effort clipped the bar as it went over, while his second, from the far left hand side, was even better, just going wide of the post. His third free-kick was just about pushed away by Tim Howard.
Howard was called into action even earlier in the first half, as Sunderland could've taken the lead after just 5 minutes. Danny Graham found himself free in the box after a Johnny Heitinga error, but the American keeper got down low and parried the resulting shot away. The Black Cats has the better of the first half overall, with the excellent Alfred N'Diaye causing problems with his runs from deep.
Not to say it was an entirely one-sided first half. Everton looked particularly dangerous from corners, with Leighton Baines' delivery giving Simon Mignolet a few nervous moments. The normally faultless Belgian keeper looked a little unsure at times, making a few unconvincing punches but, fortunately, the Toffee's couldn't capitalise. The away side found themselves with a lot of possession in the first half, but they couldn't do anything with it, as the Sunderland back line defended superbly. Danny Rose largely negated the threat of Kevin Mirallas, John O'Shea cut everything out, while Jack Colback, playing in the unfamiliar position of right back, put in a excellent defensive shift.
Everton were also very solid at the back, despite a few hairy moments from Heitinga, and it looked as if the two teams would go into the half time break level. However, Stephane Sessegnon had other ideas. Leighton Baines made an uncharacteristic error, playing a poor pass straight to Larsson, and Sunderland pounced. The Swede found Sessegnon, who had caused problems all half with his running, and the Benin international hit a low shot into the back of the net. There was similarities to the opening goal from last week, with Sessegnon capitalising on a poor error from the opposition left-back. Tim Howard managed to get a slight touch on the ball, but it wasn't enough to stop Sunderland going into the break a goal ahead.
The home side came out in the second half strongly. Danny Rose, given more of a license to get forward than we've seen this season, ran at the Everton backline, and saw his shot curl just wide of the goal.
Everton had made one change at half time with Jelavic replacing Darron Gibson, and the Croatian had a positive impact, his play on the flanks stretching Sunderland's back four. He almost put the away side level on 62 minutes as Victor Anichebe used his strength superbly and laid it off to Fellaini. His shot was helped on by Jelavic, which fortunately ended up straight in the hands of Mignolet. Replays showed the Everton striker was offside, but nothing was given by the linesman, and Sunderland were fortunate that the shot ended up in the hands of the Belgian keeper, who knew very little about it.
The Black Cats began to revert back to type; sitting far too deep and inviting Everton pressure. Leighton Baines began to get space for crosses, but fortunately the left back was having something of an off-day, and the Sunderland defence coped well. However, the home side almost gifted the Toffee's a route back into the game on 77 minutes.
The otherwise excellent Seb Larsson, under no real pressure, played an awful long ball back to his goalkeeper. Mignolet had no choice but to catch it, in order to stop the ball from flying into the net, conceding a indirect free-kick just 12 yards from goal. Baines lined up to take it, and as Sunderland supporters collectively bricked it, the England international fired a shot straight into the Black Cats fortifications, as the home side somehow cleared the danger.
Everton continued to pile on the pressure, but Sunderland continued to deal with everything that was thrown at them. The Black Cats could have even doubled their lead in one of their rare second half forays forward. Excellent work from Danny Graham led to Adam Johnson running at the Everton backline on the right hand side. With Sessegnon available in the box for a cut-back, the winger chose to go alone, and only Tim Howard stopped him from succeeding, with a good save low down.
The away side continued to put pressure on, but looked far too one-dimensional, and never caused Sunderland any real problems for the rest of the game. The final whistle blew and Di Canio's men had held on for a well deserved victory.
It was a hard-fought win for Sunderland, with some strong individual contributions. The entire back four was superb, Stephane Sessegnon was a threat throughout, but the pick of the bunch was Alfred N'Diaye. The midfielder broke up attack after attack, and caused the Everton defence problems with his runs from deep, as well as doing an excellent job of keeping Marouane Fellaini quiet. Sunderland fans are used to seeing the Belgian playing blinders against their team, so they will no doubt appreciate N'Diaye's contribution today.
Of course, Di Canio is proving that Sunderland fans need not expect what's gone on before. After beating both our rivals and Everton, the Italian has ended two 'hoodoos' well known to supporters. The Italian is already showing that Sunderland fans might have to start doing away with their usual expectations of the team they follow.
We'll have more match reaction this coming week right HERE in our Match Stream.