Under-fire Di Canio still has backing of his Sunderland players

They may be propping up the early Premier League table, but Craig Gardner insists he and his Sunderland pals remain fully supportive of Paolo Di Canio.

The controversial Italian was installed as manager at the Stadium of Light when Martin O’Neill was sacked in March. He was charged with keeping the Black Cats in the top-flight after the previous regime had registered just three points from a possible 24, and this he did when they secured their survival with one match remaining.

Di Canio made wholesale changes to his squad during the summer window, bringing 14 players in and offloading nine, including crowd favourites Simon Mignolet and Stephane Sessegnon. It will take time for these changes to be implemented, as is demonstrated by their early season form of one draw and three defeats in four fixtures.

The last loss was a 3-1 home reverse to Arsenal, a game in which Di Canio was dismissed for arguing with referee Martin Atkinson. The Football Association have now taken action on this matter, fining him £8,000 after he accepted a misconduct charge. But although the pressure is clearly mounting on the 45-year-old coach, Gardner insists he and the rest of the Sunderland players continue to back the former West Ham United star.

“I think a lot of the people who’ve been writing the manager off have got something against Paolo Di Canio,” he said. “It’s not just his management skills, there’s always something to knock him about. Of course he’s a Premier League manager – he’s managing in the Premier League, and he’s trying to change things here. We’ve still got faith in him as a squad, of course we have. The lads want to go out there and put in as much hard work as we do on the training pitch and go and get that first win that we want.”

Next up for the Black Cats is a trip to the Hawthorns to face West Bromwich Albion on Saturday afternoon. The Baggies have also endured a difficult start to the season, having collected just two points from four games, but they will be boosted at the weekend after a work permit was granted to Sessegnon. Should the Benin international inflict damage on his former employers, then the pressure on Di Canio will surely increase.


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