Di Canio hails Sunderland's spirit
By Football News
Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio was proud of the spirit his side showed to come from a goal down to earn a crucial draw with Stoke City.
The Italian watched on in dismay as Jonathan Walters scored an early goal for Stoke and then saw Craig Gardner sent off for a poor challenge on Charlie Adam.
Things looked bad for the home side at the break but Di Canio's team talk appeared to inspire his players as they raised their game in the second half to earn a point through a John O'Shea strike.
"A fantastic effort, I'm very pleased because (I think) this point will be crucial at the end of the season," he told Sky Sports on Monday.
"I tried to motivate them (at half-time), I saw a few faces that were down but playing at home if you don't concede a second goal you can stay in the game.
"There was only one team in the second half but it is obvious we have to stop what we did last week and this week (having men sent off), otherwise we are going to put ourselves in trouble. We have to help ourselves."
The dismissal of Gardner came just as Sunderland appeared to be getting back into the game but rather than derail their progress Di Canio felt they continued to improve against an imposing Stoke side.
"I am very happy in the way we were in the first half after Craig was sent off," he added. "It was a very tough moment for us. They are a very physical presence with these enormous lads.
"The second half and the last 15 minutes of the first half I saw the team I want to see, playing football with enthusiasm and the shape was fantastic, I think we fully deserved the point, maybe something more."
The Italian refused to comment on Gardner's sending off, instead explaining that he intended to keep looking forward and plan for their final three games with the players that he does have available.
"I'm not the kind of manager that will cry or make an excuse because the job is done," he continued.
"Stephane is out, obviously Craig will be out, I only want to focus on the players that I can select to play.
"I hope we don't make other mistakes like we did. I love the passion, I love the heart but to improve we need to be capable of handling ourselves."
Their next fixture is against fellow strugglers Southampton and Di Canio believes it will be one of the most important games the club has played in a long time, and that if they win their Premier League status could be secured for next season.
"It is a Champions League final for us," he said. "It will be crucial for our destiny.
"We have to do everything to win this game, because if we win I presume we are going to stay up."