Sunderland 1-0 Everton

Sessegnon key to Sunderland salvation

April 20, 2013
By Kristan Heneage, Stadium of Light

"It was already difficult to find another pair of trousers," Paolo Di Canio said with a wry smile - a reference to the muddy knees that the Italian acquired during his celebrations at St James' Park and that fans now sing about wanting, too.

Sunderland boss Paolo Di Canio celebrates Stephane Sessegnon's goal against Everton
GettyImagesSunderland boss Paolo Di Canio continues to get the best out of his players

This time, he opted against a knee slide on the Stadium of Light touchline, choosing a double fist-pump to celebrate the solitary goal that helped edge Sunderland towards safety. His exuberance provided another example of a spirit that had been missing prior to his arrival.

Constantly the centre of attention, often by design, he continues to ask for focus to turn to his players. His ten-yard dashes up and down the touchline may be amusing, but they pale in comparison to the kilometres his team are racking up in their bid to guarantee Premier League football.

They are a different side to the one that meekly fell down the league under Martin O'Neill, and few will now support the 61-year-old Irishman's claims that he deserved more time.

More time would have been likely to see them relegated, and the gloom that had surrounded the Stadium of Light was embodied by the lack of vibrancy in Stephane Sessegnon - one of many players revitalised under Di Canio.

Fans believe their diminutive playmaker is a divine creation. Although their suggestion that God took elements of Pele and Lionel Messi when creating Sessegnon is mere terrace jocularity, few can argue that the diminutive playmaker has brought the club closer to salvation of late. Di Canio's decision to give him a more defined role in attacking midfield has really sparked an upturn in form.

Sessgnon is a mercurial type, and O'Neill played to that. Allowing him to float and drift, the result was either tremendous performances or afternoons spent on the periphery of proceedings. Under Di Canio, he is asked to move into the channels and stretch defences, his pace serving as the obvious out ball when they spring into a counter-attack.

It's the kind of nuance that was previously lacking and a decision that aided them in besting a stout Everton side.

The goal stemmed from an uncharacteristic loss of possession by Leighton Baines, and the ball eventually made its way to Sessegnon. Tasked with beating a clutch of Everton defenders, he took up the challenge before firing past the outstretched hand of Tim Howard.

Sunderland goalscorer Stephane Sessegnon and Everton's Darron Gibson compete
GettyImagesStephane Sessegnon has enjoyed a recent resurgence for the Wearsiders

He was given a standing ovation when replaced by defender Kader Mangane, who had only played development squad games under O'Neill after joining on loan in January, but whom Di Canio has been able to use effectively.

Everton were tepid. Unwilling to engage in the physical battle, their performance was indicative of a group of players who could see the golden prize of Champions League football escaping their grasp.

If this is to be David Moyes' last season at the club, it appears it will end in a meek fashion. Unable to break down a meticulously-drilled Sunderland, their failures were met with exasperation.

"We won't get top four," Moyes said afterwards. His admission was far from surprising, given that they are currently five points behind Chelsea having played two games more. With some feeling that Monday's draw against Arsenal was an opportunity missed, their trip to the Stadium of Light had become one of those dreaded 'must win' affairs.

But a feeling that this just wouldn't be their day must have become a certainty when Sunderland 'keeper Simon Mignolet stopped a certain goal by catching a looping Sebastian Larsson backpass. The resulting free-kick crashed against the wall amid a roar from the relieved home fans.

Ever the performer, Di Canio could not pass up the chance to walk into the centre circle and celebrate with his adoring public at full-time. Having said in his programme notes that the heart of a club is its fans, he left the field pounding his chest and to the backing of The Jam's 'That's Entertainment' - a fitting microcosm of the brief tenure of one of the league's most polarising characters.

David Moyes Sunderland v Everton point
PA PhotosDavid Moyes admitted that the top four is now beyond Everton's reach

MAN OF THE MATCH: Stephane Sessegnon. Defensive stability is admirable, but without the quality to convert chances at the other end it means very little. Building on a fantastic performance at St James' Park, Sessegnon is by far the club's biggest attacking threat. Often creating his own opportunities, his natural ability could see him play higher up the league - but his decision-making remains his Achilles heel that inhibits him fulfilling that potential. He now represents the fulcrum of the Sunderland side and is a player they simply can't afford to lose in the summer.

EVERTON VERDICT. Lifeless and lacklustre for the majority of the game, a lack of effort or desire was embodied by Steven Pienaar, who often gave up when physical pressure was applied. Everton opted for a two-man strike force in the second half, but there was a distinct lack of threat from both Victor Anichebe and Nikica Jelavic. They need a quality striker, but financial constraints mean that will be a big ask unless the club decide to cash in on Maroune Fellaini.

SUNDERLAND VERDICT. Another barnstorming performance earned Di Canio his second win and edged them even closer to safety. Out-battling their opponents for the third week in a row, a lack of quality through the middle is holding them back at present. That cannot be rectified until Di Canio is afforded a transfer window and money to spend, and if he can secure better players who will also adhere to his demanding management style, the club could begin to push towards the top half.