PAOLO Di Canio last night insisted it would be a miracle when, as he expects, Sunderland escape relegation because the club was “dead” before his arrival.
This was hardly the Italian’s first swipe at the previous regime as he promised to change everything at the Stadium of Light next season.
Yesterday’s 1-1 draw with Southampton at the Stadium of Light means Wigan need to beat Arsenal tomorrow to take the relegation issue to next Sunday’s final fixtures.
A draw for the FA Cup winners shouldn’t be enough because their goal-difference is 11 worse than Sunderland and, while they could match the Black Cats points total, it will probably not be enough.
If Wigan win at the Emirates then Sunderland would require a point from White Hart Lane next week to ensure safety, no matter what happens between Wigan and Aston Villa – who play each other and are the only other clubs which can now go down.
Di Canio said: “I knew the quality we had here before I came. There are many good players. However, the environment – and this is not to accuse anyone – it was dead. The environment was dead, I can tell you.
“I say this because the boys need to understand they have done a critical job.
“When we stay up – and I’m sure we will – it will be a miracle.”
Sunderland will be a very different team and club next season, no matter how this campaign ends.
Di Canio added: “Let’s make sure we keep the club up and then I’m going to change everything.
“To change everything in a few weeks is not possible.
“I want to keep the right players and bring in the right players, if that’s possible.
“It won’t upset anyone that there will be changes because I want to play dynamic football.
“The players who will remain with me, it is obvious they will have an advantage because they will work very hard in the summer.
“Let me finish the job we started a few weeks ago.”
Di Canio one again highlighted the lack of fitness he found when he replaced Martin O’Neill, saying: “Before Paolo Di Canio, the club lost Steven Fletcher and other players and some had to adapt to different positions.
“In the last two games we have played better in the second-half and that is down to our physical condition. They restored their belief, which was under the ground before my arrival.”
Di Canio didn’t mention Connor Wickham by name, but he was far from happy with the substitute’s contribution.
He said: “I expect much more from people whot sit on the bench. They have to go on the field and give everything.
“I didn’t enjoy someone who didn’t approach the game. I have to make sure we change the mentality.”
Sunderland were fortunate to take a point yesterday, despite having a 1-0 lead with 15 minutes remaining.
Di Canio, however, was only thinking of getting that closer to his goal.
He added: “This was a small step, but it was an important step. It’s a good step, a medium step. A point is important for us.
“When you have 15 minutes to go and are 1-0 up,and we have to be honest and say Southampton played better, we should have showed more adventure, more desire.
“However, it could be a big point when the season ends next week.”
The players took a lap of honour at the end, although the stadium was pretty empty by then.