Sunderland 2 Peterborough 0: Mark Douglas' match analysis

Life after Paolo Di Canio is looking good for Sunderland as they battled through heavy fog to defeat Peterborough at the Stadium of Light

Richard Sellers/Getty Images Adam Johnson of Sunderland is tackled by Gabriel Zukuani of Peterborough
Adam Johnson of Sunderland is tackled by Gabriel Zukuani of Peterborough

On a pea-souper of a night on Wearside, the fog of war finally lifted to reveal a Sunderland side capable of playing with the sort of verve and dynamism Paolo Di Canio had desperately longed for.

Thick plumes of fog hovered above the Stadium of Light but the narrative was as clear as day.

Freed from the shackles of Di Canio’s controlling and ultimately toxic “revolution,” the team played with confidence and determination to sweep aside League One Peterborough.

There seemed to be a collective point to prove to the man who had questioned their integrity, professionalism and - latterly - their ability.

That the first goal was the result of excellent interplay by Lee Cattermole and Emanuele Giaccherini - two of the recipients of Di Canio’s ire in the aftermath of the West Brom debacle - will not have been lost on anybody.

Neither, it must be added, was the reaction of the players - who celebrated as one, with seemingly a collective smile on their face.

It is not as simple as all of that, of course. Di Canio might have been revealed as a charlatan by revelations straight from the heart of the dressing room but Sunderland’s players will need more than just the euphoria of their former manager’s demise to turn the promise of an enterprising first half against third tier opponents into valuable Premier League points.

Having summoned up the spirit to challenge Di Canio, this squad has a point to prove every week from now until the end of the season.

That means the likes of Cattermole, Giaccherini and Carlos Cuellar will have to maintain these levels for the foreseeable future to keep sceptical supporters from wondering whether maybe Di Canio had the kernel of a point.

Still, this was an ideal way to blast away the last remnants of Di Canio’s narcissistic rule.

A place in the fourth round of the League Cup is a useful platform for whoever Ellis Short decides to opt for in the coming weeks.

While Gus Poyet seems to have spent the last 24 hours establishing himself as one of the front runners, there is a case to be made for Kevin Ball getting at least an extended trial run while Sunderland carry out due diligence on possible successors to Di Canio.

Ball is the unity candidate, bringing together supporters and the squad by virtue of his obvious passion for the club.

It would be unconceivable to imagine Ball speaking of himself in the third person or breaking the strict omerta of the Black Cats dressing room - but that doesn’t mean he is a soft touch.

He looked capable of making the difficult decisions last night, making five changes to the side so comprehensively out-classed at West Brom.

Back in came Cattermole, Cuellar, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Larsson as the caretaker boss opted to work with what he knew rather than the crop of thus-far unproven newcomers recruited by Director of Football Roberto De Fanti.

If it was a message Ball would do it his way, it worked.

Immediately it felt like the correct call and Cattermole’s determination - which had been tossed aside by Di Canio as he sought to turn over a new page - was the catalyst for a Sunderland performance much more in line with the expectations of the 18,000 or so Black Cats who braved a miserable autumn night to show their support.

Di Canio’s 175-day revolution might have enraptured Sunderland’s supporters at one point but it seemed totally unlamented last night.

For a man whose name was sung lustily as recently as a fortnight ago, there were no calls for the deposed boss from the stands, nor any sense of discontent at the decision taken by Ellis Short on Sunday lunchtime.

The revelations about Di Canio’s regime seem to have blunted any lingering dismay at the upheaval his removal has caused to Sunderland’s season.

While he said and did things which quickened red and white pulses on occasion, a manager so at odds with his squad simply cannot operate effectively.

Sunderland began well against a team which represented a potential banana skin.

Peterborough’s surge into second spot in League One has seen them score 19 times and in Britt Assombalonga they have one of English football’s most in-form strikers, so they were no-one’s patsies.

However, the Black Cats had the measure of them from the early stages, with Altidore set up by a wonderful fizzing pass by Giaccherini as early as six minutes.

The United States striker has been dreadfully unfortunate in front of goal since his return to England and once again his smart movement was not rewarded by a goal as Posh ‘keeper Bobby Olejnik spread himself well to prevent an opening goal.

Giaccherini then missed a gilt-edged opportunity presented to him by a fine Jack Colback cross before the Italy winger converted from Cattermole’s excellent cross.

Altidore continued to look dangerous and was again out of luck when his long-range effort smacked a post before rebounding away from danger.

One day, when his fortune turns, he will punish some poor team.

Peterborough had struggled to impose themselves on the contest but in the second half they had a spell of possession which threatened Sunderland’s dominance.

They failed to press home that advantage but there was a moment of joy for the visiting supporters when Colback nearly headed past Keiren Westwood with 15 minutes left.

The Posh support thought the ball had gone into the net but their cheers were short-lived when a corner was awarded.

Two minutes later their evening was over when Adam Johnson dissected the visiting back four with a fine cross that was met with conviction by Sunderland substitute Valentin Roberge.

His header sailed past Olejnik and prompted calls for caretaker Ball to give the home fans a wave.

The self-proclaimed King has been overthrown but there appeared to be little in the way of regret as the Black Cats prospered.

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