Season Review: April

by Ashley Houghton

Di Canio guides side to derby win.

Paolo Di Canio began his first month in charge of Sunderland knowing that points were vital if the Black Cats were to maintain their Barclays Premier League status.

And the Italian head coach was delighted to be trusted with the task of maintaining Sunderland’s top-flight status.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for me and my staff to have a chance to work for one of the biggest clubs not only in England, but in Europe,” he told SAFC TV.

“To work for a club which has over 40,000 people when we play at home is amazing.”

Di Canio’s first game in charge was a trip to Stamford Bridge to face European champions Chelsea.

And it was a perfect first 45 minutes for Di Canio as Cesar Azpilicueta’s own goal, on the stroke of half-time, gave the Wearsiders the lead.

However it wasn’t to be the perfect start for the new boss as Matt Kilgallon’s unfortunate own goal levelled the scores before Branislav Ivanovic deflected David Luiz’s strike beyond the helpless Mignolet.

On-loan defender Danny Rose spoke highly of the new boss’ impact in a short space of time on Wearside.

“The gaffer has been great; he’s instilled a lot of confidence in the team,” the England U21 international said. “I think that showed in the first half.

“We showed what we can do for 45 minutes of the game and hopefully we can produce that for the full 90 next Sunday.”

Next up for Di Canio’s side was the short journey to Tyneside to face near rivals Newcastle United at St. James’ Park.

Goals from Stephane Sessegnon, Adam Johnson and David Vaughan produced what was arguably the finest moment of the season for the Black Cats.

And, naturally the Italian was buoyant after the win, though he did warn his side against complacency ahead of a difficult run of games.

"It’s great for the fans to be able to celebrate such a win – I’m very proud of my players, they gave everything. They were fantastic – just perfect - they were warriors,” Di Canio said.

“I don’t have time to celebrate now as this is just one step, there are more steps needed right up until the end of the season.

“I have to maintain focus and be fully prepared for the next game.”

Di Canio’s first game in charge at the Stadium of Light was the visit of David Moyes’ high-flying Everton.

Sessegnon proved to be the match-winner for the hosts as Sunderland recorded back-to-back victories for only the third time during the 2012-13 campaign.

And young winger James McClean was delighted with the Black Cats’ battling qualities as they ended a 13-year wait for a win over the Toffees.

“It was a battle today; we put in a great performance and got another three points on the board, which is huge for us,” the Republic of Ireland international said.

“There’s no doubt about it, there’s a new found confidence in the team – the manager’s instilled that into the players.”

The final game of April saw Sunderland travel to Aston Villa for a key Monday night clash.

Villa turned out arguably their best display of the season as the Black Cats imploded during the second-half to lose 6-1 in the Midlands.

Ron Vlaar’s wonder strike, as well as Andreas Weimann’s goal gave Paul Lambert’s side a 2-1 half-time lead after Rose had earlier equalised with his first Sunderland goal.

Christian Benteke’s second-half hat-trick ended the Wearsiders’ unbeaten run and Gabriel Agbonlahor added salt into the wounds with his late strike.

Sessegnon was dismissed late on for a foul on Yacouba Sylla to round-off a miserable evening for Di Canio’s side.

In reflection, midfielder Craig Gardner rued the Black Cats’ second-half performance and vowed that it wouldn’t happen again.

“We’ve had three great performances, so to go to Villa and lose like that was a kick up the backside that we probably needed,” said Gardner, who returned from suspension to face his former side.

“For sure, it won’t happen again. Maybe it’s something we needed to kick us back into touch, but we need to get points and make sure we get over the line.”