It’s been five months and eight days since Stephane Sessegnon skipped down the St James’ Park pitch and silenced the Gallowgate End with a strike that flew past the outstretched arm of Tim Krul.
The opening goal in the Tyne-Wear derby saw new manager Paolo Di Canio slide on his knees in celebration, and further exaggerated scenes of jubilation followed as his new side went on to record a famous 3-0 win at the home of their fiercest rivals.
Di Canio followed it with an impressive home win over Everton, and a club staring relegation in the face under the worn out leadership of Martin O’Neill were soon saved to fight another season in the Premier League.
Yesterday at the Hawthorns saw another 3-0 scoreline, and another opener from the mercurial Sessegnon. Only the team benefitting from both were not those in red and white, but the blue and white of West Brom, as their comfortable win lifted them out of the relegation zone and into 13th place.
Sunderland and Di Canio, on the other hand, have only one point from their first five games and their charismatic boss is now the overwhelming 4/5 favourite to become the first Premier League manager sacked this season.
The term shrinking violet can never be applied to the Italian, and few managers would have had the courage to face the fans directly following another defeat, yet that is exactly what Di Canio did, channelling Mourinho’s mannerisms by urging them to keep their chin up.
But the mixed reaction of his own fans – from those applauding, to those gesticulating angrily, to a majority simply staring back in bemusement – suggests that few agree on quite who is to blame for the Wearsiders’ torrid start.
Of those who started in the derby win at Newcastle, only John O’Shea and Adam Johnson have survived, with St James’ sub Jack Colback now granted a starting birth. Many of those watching would argue that Simon Mignolet, Danny Rose, and of course Sessegnon, were the three main reasons Di Canio was able to turn things round last season, yet none remain at the club.
But it’s not just the playing squad that has changed since then. American owner Ellis Short has appointed a Director of Football, Roberto De Fanti, and a new chief scout, Valentino Angeloni, and both have worked to implement a Serie A model of player recruitment, with the tactics and training left to the “Head Coach”. Certainly, Short has opted for revolution over evolution.
So quite how much say Di Canio has in anything other than picking the XI remains unclear, but with a clear cost-cutting policy in place – replacing their most expensive assets with cheaper, untried talent from the continent – he may well feel that it’s too early to judge him as he attempts to blend together a squad of players he’s been handed, rather than hand-picked himself.
But he is not likely to be so naïve as to think that if things don’t improve dramatically, it’ll be his owner or indeed his Director of Football who takes the flack. With newspaper reports already claiming that Roberto di Matteo is being lined up as a potential replacement, it seems Paolo has only a few games to save his job.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.