Di Canio: Derby win would be career high
Paolo Di Canio believes that victory on Sunday against Newcastle would represent the highlight of his managerial career thus far.
Earning an opportunity with Sunderland following a spell in the lower leagues with Swindon Town, Di Canio enjoyed a successful time at the Country Ground, winning promotion to League One as well as a place in the final of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy. Fully understanding the importance of Sunday's clash, a victory would represent the club's first success at St James' Park since November 2000 as well securing them their maiden win under the 44-year-old's tenure.
"Up to date as a manager, the best moment was to reach the Johnstones Paint Trophy final at Wembley," Di Canio told the Sunderland Echo. "That was fantastic because it was the maximum I could obtain at that moment. And then I won the league. "The most important thing for us is to stay up. But to win the war in this game would be amazing. We'd create a special day for everyone to remember for many years to come. It would be three points as well which we need at this moment. So if we win, it will be my proudest moment as a manager because we will have delivered satisfaction for everyone."
Likening their trip to Tyneside to the Roman Empire, Di Canio revealed earlier this week he had spent extensive time reading up on the history of the rivalry - dating back to the 1600s. Having cast his side as the underdog against the Magpies, the recently appointed Black Cats boss is now eager to face 'the enemy'.
"The other morning, I went out of the hotel and there was a guy there working and he shouted 'Paolo, come on, come on... look'," he explained. "And then he rolled up his trouser leg and he had a Sunderland tattoo. To be in a place where we are 2,000 vs 50,000, it would feel like we have conquered, like the Roman Empire, fighting for our kingdom and our pride.
"I can't wait. It gives you so much energy. I've always liked to be the underdog to create something special. It's an amazing stage to be on. It was great to start at Stamford Bridge and now to face the enemy tops that. We have to have the drive and energy and raise our game. Challenge for the ball, keep the ball and strike on goal with determination and desire."
Although Sunderland will be forced to try and best Newcastle without key players such as Steven Fletcher and Lee Cattermole, former midfielder Kevin Kilbane believes that could see a new star come to the fore. Kilbane was part of the last side to beat the Magpies and the Republic of Ireland international still holds fond memories of his first derby experience.
"I remember we had a great win and Thomas Sorensen saved a penalty in the last minute," he told ESPN. "The game had everything. It was a wonderful occasion, certainly to win at St James' Park was extra special obviously.
"I was impressed with Connor Wickham last week against Chelsea, he's obviously not had a lot of chances this season, he's been out on loan but [in the absence of Fletcher] maybe he could be the man to step up to the plate and be the hero on Sunday.
"I think they've got to try and use [Newcastle's Europa Leg game against Benfica on Thursday] to their advantage. Hopefully for Sunderland there will be a few tired legs out there from Thursday. Of course with the key players they've got missing it's not going to help the cause but they still have players that can win games for them, they just haven't produced it enough this season. Now could be the time to go out there and put the troubles of the last few months behind them."