At Sunderland, goals are the key for Di Canio

A lot has been said about Paolo Di Canio’s appointment as Sunderland’s new head coach and a lot of it has been to do with politics.

A lot has been said about Paolo Di Canio’s appointment as Sunderland’s new head coach and a lot of it has been to do with politics.

David Miliband has resigned from his position as vice-chairman and columnists have been quick to criticise owner Ellis Short’s decision to appoint a volatile character who is a self-declared fascist.

But fans on Wearside should probably have more pressing concerns than their manager’s politics.  Admittedly those beliefs are, at best, not great and this is no attempt to brush what is obviously a significant issue under the carpet. However, for now, Sunderland cannot let the politics of their manager be the biggest issue. The priority needs to be getting Sunderland scoring again.

Since comfortably beating West Ham 3-0 at the Stadium of Light on 12th January, the Black Cats have scored just twice at home from open play. That is a statistic made all the more worrying by the revelation that top scorer Steven Fletcher will be absent for the rest of the season with ankle ligament damage.

To add more concern, Stephane Sessegnon, a revelation in his debut campaign last season, looks to be suffering from a bout of the much-fabled second season syndrome. Danny Graham, meanwhile, has yet to impress following his £5million arrival from Swansea City in January and Connor Wickham has rarely looked worth the £8million spent on him two summers ago.

Sunderland have a tough run in, which sees them travel to Chelsea next, Newcastle in the Tyne-Wear derby, fellow strugglers Aston Villa and Tottenham on the last day of the season. But in amongst these trips are winnable home games against Everton, Stoke and Southampton and three wins will almost certainly keep the Black Cats up.

Not one of those opponents will be easy, but when you’re near the bottom of the league yourselves, there aren’t any games that are easy.  But they’re winnable—if Sunderland starts scoring again.

At their match on the 30thMarch against Manchester United, they did not look like scoring. Further, they did not look like they had the belief to score. It’s all well and good saying that their season will not hinge on a result against the champions-elect. But United, who are not playing particularly well themselves, rarely needed to get out of first gear to win the match. The result may not have been too significant but the characterless performance was.

So what will Di Canio’s appointment bring? Scoring is something that his Swindon side rarely had too many problems with during his reign, while his experience of being one of the great foreign strikers in the Premier League era is surely only going to help.

Swindon were among the top scorers as they won League Two last season and have scored big against fellow League One high-fliers this term in Tranmere (5-0), Yeovil (4-1) and Bournemouth (4-0).  In addition, not many sides can say they have put four past Stoke at the Britannia this season as Swindon did in the Capital One Cup back in August.

Neither is it an impossible job to get Sunderland scoring again. A strike partnership of Sessegnon and Graham, flanked by Adam Johnson and James McClean on the wings, along with others capable of getting goals from midfield such as Sebastian Larsson and Craig Gardner, suggests that even without Fletcher, there should be no excuse for Sunderland not getting goals.

But it wasn’t happening under O’Neill. No progress whatsoever has been made since he took over from Steve Bruce in December 2011, having won just 21 of 66 matches and none in the last eight.  The lack of goals has seen them in freefall towards the relegation trap-door.

Meanwhile, many things about Di Canio remain questionable—his antics, his politics, his experience.  But if he manages to get the goals flowing at the Stadium of Light, Sunderland will probably survive.   And, for now, that is all the fans need worry about.

What do you think of Paolo Di Canio’s appointment to Sunderland? Will the club be on the right track? Have your say in the comments section below, on Facebook or on Twitter.