Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 30 October 2014

Di Canio: Battle will go to the wire

Paolo Di Canio took charge of Sunderland for the first time against Chelsea

Paolo Di Canio believes Sunderland's fight for survival will go on until the final day of the season.

The build-up to Di Canio's first match as successor to Martin O'Neill was overshadowed by debate over the Italian's political beliefs, but when the talking stopped and the football started, the 44-year-old could not prevent his new charges slipping to a 2-1 defeat at Champions League-chasing Chelsea.

The 17th-placed Black Cats are above Wigan only on goal difference, having played a game more, but Di Canio suggested the May 4 clash with Stoke could be key in his side's survival fight. Asked if the battle to avoid relegation will continue until May 19, Di Canio said: "I hope not, but probably now every week will change because Stoke now are involved completely."

He added: "Only three points above of us, they have to play against us at the Stadium of Light. Their goal difference is the same, they have to play against Manchester United. Every week it can change, the situation. I think it will for everybody - Villa, us, Wigan, Stoke."

Di Canio saw enough at Stamford Bridge to believe in his side, who succumbed to Matt Kilgallon's 47th-minute own goal and Branislav Ivanovic's 55th-minute second.

"We were well organised," said the former Swindon boss. "The lads ran very, very hard and we went in at half-time 1-0 up. Fully deserved.

"The second half is difficult, because after one minute you can go blurry if you concede this goal. We were in the opponents' box, in a few seconds they countered and they scored their first goal.

"We concede two goals too early. We have a short time from now until the end of the season, but we're capable to build their strengths. Most important their attention because the two goals came from two mistakes."

Blues boss Rafael Benitez anticipates the race for a Champions League qualifying spot will continue until May 19, but he hopes last season's European Cup winners will be certain of their place before then. The London derby with Tottenham - a date for which is still to be confirmed - could effectively be a play-off for Champions League football next term.

"Hopefully not for us, but I think it will be the case," said Benitez, when asked if the battle for a top-four spot will continue until the end of the season. "Spurs and Arsenal are still there pushing, Everton as well. We have to continue to the end. Hopefully we can do well in the cup competitions and be ready for Fulham and Liverpool."

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