Di Canio expects long fight for survival
Paolo Di Canio believes Sunderland's fight for survival will go on until the final day of the season.
The build-up to Di Canio's first match as successor to Martin O'Neill was overshadowed by debate over the Italian's political beliefs, but when the talking stopped and the football started, the 44-year-old could not prevent his new charges slipping to a 2-1 defeat at Champions League-chasing Chelsea.
The 17th-placed Black Cats are above Wigan only on goal difference, having played a game more, but Di Canio suggested the May 4 clash with Stoke could be key in his side's survival fight.
Asked if the battle to avoid relegation will continue until May 19, Di Canio said: "I hope not, but probably now every week will change because Stoke now are involved completely.
"Only three points above of us, they have to play against us at the Stadium of Light. Their goal difference is the same, they have to play against Manchester United. Every week it can change, the situation. I think it will for everybody - Villa, us, Wigan, Stoke."
Di Canio saw enough at Stamford Bridge to believe in his side, who succumbed to Matt Kilgallon's 47th-minute own goal and Branislav Ivanovic's 55th-minute second.
"We were well organised," he said. "The lads ran very, very hard and we went in at half-time 1-0 up. Fully deserved. The second half is difficult, because after one minute you can go blurry if you concede this goal.
"We were in the opponents' box, in a few seconds they countered and they scored their first goal. We concede two goals too early. We have a short time from now until the end of the season, but we're capable to build their strengths.
"Most important their attention because the two goals came from two mistakes."
Sunderland were without Danny Graham, with Connor Wickham starting up front alongside Stephane Sessegnon, and Di Canio revealed the former Swansea striker suffered a knee injury on the eve of the match.
"Danny Graham - yesterday morning he got injured. He had a problem in his knee," Di Canio said, but did not reveal the full extent of the injury.
Eight days after losing to Southampton, Chelsea are now third - above Tottenham on goal difference with a game in hand - following a third win in seven days at Stamford Bridge.
Blues boss Rafael Benitez anticipates the race for a Champions League qualifying spot will continue until May 19, but he hopes last season's European Cup winners will be certain of their place before then.
The London derby with Tottenham - a date for which is still to be confirmed - could effectively be a play-off for Champions League football next term.
Asked if the battle for a top-four spot will continue until the end of the season, Benitez said: "Hopefully not for us, but I think it will be the case. Spurs and Arsenal are still there pushing, Everton as well.
"We have to continue to the end. Hopefully we can do well in the cup competitions and be ready for Fulham and Liverpool."
Benitez was pleased with the response of his side after they went behind to a Cesar Azpilicueta own goal just before the break.
"The most important thing was to get the result and we did it," he said. "The reaction was the most important thing. We showed character, we showed determination in the second half and we scored two goals."
Victory for the Blues, who beat Manchester United on Monday and Rubin Kazan on Thursday, may have come at a cost with Demba Ba going off at half-time with an ankle injury.
Craig Gardner was booked for the challenge and was perhaps fortunate to avoid a red card. Ba is cup-tied for the Europa League and will miss the trip to Moscow, but Fernando Torres made an impact as his replacement and appeared more confident following his double on Thursday night.
"When you change a player at half-time, it's not fine," Benitez said. "The tackle was a heavy tackle, but we don't know now. It's too early."
With next weekend's FA Cup semi-final with Manchester City and fixtures to come with Fulham and Liverpool the following week, Chelsea can ill afford injuries.
"We'll have another four games in the next week, so you cannot stop," Benitez said. "The main thing is to get results and try to be sure that we have the right mentality every game."
Information from the Press Association was used in this report