Despite losing at home to Fulham, there is still reason for optimism for fans of the Stadium of Light outfit.
Assessing the chances of all the teams in the Premier League before the season started, Sunderland were always going to be the toughest one to call. As the signings kept coming over the summer, rival managers must have found it impossible to predict if the Wearsiders were going to be any good. Paolo Di Canio has effectively signed an entire new team and a fairly big portion of the recruits are complete unknowns to fans of the English game. Before yesterday everyone was waiting to see where exactly between brilliant and abysmal the Black Cats were going to be.
Now having lost their opening fixture at home to Fulham it’s still too early to tell. What can be said though, is that there were enough positives in the defeat to give the home fans reason for optimism.
Di Canio opted to field five of his new signings in his starting line-up. Of these, Cape Verde midfielder Cabral looked the most impressive. The former Basel man bossed the centre of the park as the home side dominated for lengthy periods and looks like an acquisition well suited to the Premier League. Brought in as an enforcer, Cabral also seems willing to get forward and contributed to the attack at the Stadium of Light with a box-to-box display.
One of those who did arrive this summer with a higher profile than some of his fellow new men was Italian winger Emanuele Giaccherini. At just 5 ft 6 the home fans will be hoping that good things do indeed come in small packages. Di Canio will be pleased with his countryman’s debut. The little man looked very lively and appeared Sunderland’s main danger on an afternoon that saw other creative influences like Stephane Sessegnon and Adam Johnson struggle to make an impact on Fulham’s robust rearguard.
The failure to find the net at home on the opening day will of course concern the supporters up on Wearside but they can take some comfort from the fact that they were kept out by a terrific debut from Maarten Stekelenburg in the Fulham goal. Last season’s top scorer Steven Fletcher missed out through injury and his return will boost Sunderland’s attack. In his absence Di Canio went for Jozy Altidore up top. The American bagged a hat-trick in his most recent international outing but was unable get much change out of Brede Hangeland at the heart of Fulham’s defence. Nevertheless the powerful forward will provide good competition for Fletcher.
So despite the result there are number of reasons to be cheerful for fans in the North East. Several of the summer signings have yet to make their debuts so there is still a good deal of mystery about Sunderland this season. We should have a better idea in a couple of weeks after they have played Southampton and Crystal Palace in their next two fixtures. Both look like very winnable games on paper so it is vital that Di Canio’s revamped squad get some points on the board.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald