Crystal Palace 3 Sunderland 1: Steve Brown's match analysis

As what follows may prove, public criticism can be a delicate and dangerous business

Warren Little/Getty Images Steven Fletcher of Sunderland scores past goalkeeper Julian Speroni of Crystal Palace

As what follows may prove, public criticism can be a delicate and dangerous business.

Get it right, and your “empty in the brain” duds can re-emerge as world beaters.

Mis-calculate, and even the irrefutable evidence of 90 minutes and damning quotes thereafter mightn’t spare you from being banned from both the Stadium and the Academy of Light.

So while I await either my fate or a sub-editor’s rewrite, Sunderland must manage their own self-made mess.

The Black Cats have signed 11 senior players this summer (“He does realise they’re not a rugby union team, doesn’t he?” said one rival mocker).

More might yet follow.

Whether Paolo Di Canio starts three or an entire XI of new recruits, this, now, is incontestably his team.

Yet three games into the Premier League season, that team is without a win and second-bottom of the table, and after the initial, traditional boost a new manager can supply to a club, the Italian has overseen two league wins in 10, and none in their last seven games.

An odd time then for a manager – even one with previous for it at Swindon Town, who is as forthright as he can come across indecipherable – to stick the boot in on a couple of his players.

The goal at his mercy 21 minutes into Saturday’s defeat at Crystal Palace, Ji Dong-Won shied away from connecting with the ball, and/or Julian Speroni.

He could, should and would have scored.

If his apparent apathy was actually, instead, indecision as to what body part to launch at the ball, try the kitchen sink next time.

Because anything less, anything less than putting your health on the line for the cause, for the supporters, for your job, is not, apparently and rightly, enough for your boss.

Immediately thereafter, Di Canio went potty. Later, he suggestedhis striker was “scared”, that heand Connor Wickham had gone to work without engaging any greymatter.

On TV, Michael Owen said he’d “never seen anything so bad” as Ji’s timidity.

So where do you draw the line? How, publicly and privately, do you chastise your pampered, millionaire superstars?

Evidently, Di Canio goes in two-footed. Owen and Robbie Savage, by contrast, say ‘Keep it in-house’.

Me? I believe there is a time when, let down by your employees, you can justifiably name and shame those responsible. But it’s patently a ‘handle-with-care’ scenario, and one which, misjudged and ill-timed, can lose a dressing room.

Hence, talk on the television of “pressure”.

And neither wonder. Apparently, a rat or mouse is spotted in the Hendon area of Sunderland every two hours. Shots on goal, let alone actual goals, by their nearest professional football team are even rarer.

Combine with defending as charitable as Sunderland’s on Saturday, and you have a recipe for disaster.

The latter, first.

On nine minutes, Jose Campana’s corner drops into a crowded six-yard box. The ball hits Ondrej Celustka, then Danny Gabbidon. Goal. Much later, John O’Shea belies his status as his side’s most experienced footballer by mis-reading the spin of an oncoming ball, failing to step into it, and tripping Dwight Gayle as he sought to make amends.

From the penalty spot, Gayle scored as O’Shea showered.

And in added time, though David Vaughan’s stumbling tackle dispossessed Jason Puncheon, he inadvertently redirected the ball into the path of Stuart O’Keefe, who curled an exquisite, left-foot shot over Keiren Westwood, off the crossbar and in.

Amid all that, a smidgeon of consolation for weary Wearside souls arrived in the shape of this season’s first meaningful sighting of one Steven Kenneth Fletcher.

Sidelined since March with an ankle injury, the Scotsman replaced Ji – not, Di Canio insisted, for that miss – at half-time and, with the help of fellow substitute Charis Mavrias, scored just after the hour mark.

It was a towering header, and spoke of salvation, long-term and, albeit misleadingly, short.

With Stephane Sessegnon unsettled and Jozy Altidore hamstrung, with Wickham bullying the flat tracks of the Capital One Cup and Ji unable to rise to even that, the Black Cats appear clawless.

Four cup strikes aside, Sunderland have scored fewer than a goal a game.

Before kick-off at the weekend, only Swansea City were – apparently; I love a stat, me – beset by a worse shot-conversion rate than Di Canio’s team.

Even Saturday’s was a header!

These remain, of course, early days.

Pressure? It is impossible to argue against the unflinching and eternal inevitability that, like anyone’s, Di Canio’s days are numbered.

To those who would have them end imminently, I would counter: what, and who, then?

Sunderland were better in defeat, away than Newcastle United were at home to West Ham last week.

All is not yet lost.

Premier League News

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer