No happy ending to Di Canio’s torrid week
Tired Chelsea do enough in second half to take points
Sunderland's new manager Paolo di Canio during the Premier League match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Photograph: Andrew Winning/Reuters
Chelsea 2 Sunderland 1: A week into the job and Paolo Di Canio has experienced first-hand just how cruel life can seem overseeing a side enduring a nosedive.
Sunderland made Chelsea feel ordinary for long periods and even led the European champions, albeit largely for the duration of half-time, but by the end had succumbed and felt even deeper in the mire.
The new manager paced the touchline, lurching from animated encouragement to livid disapproval. His enthusiasm will be needed in the difficult weeks to come.
It said much that Chelsea, wheezing amid their onerous schedule, felt the more relieved at the final whistle. This had been one of their less impressive displays, a messy victory squeezed from a lacklustre display as the fatigue, understandably, appears to grip.
They were again thankful for the burst of quality provided by Fernando Torres, the substitute introduced at the interval to sear beyond Danny Rose in the opening exchange of the second period. His squared pass to Oscar prompted panic, Simon Mignolet charging from his line to block only for the loose ball to cannon on to Matt Kilgallon and spin into the net.
Rose had actually sprinted on to the line by then but lost his balance as the ball dribbled beyond him and into the corner. That rather summed up the visitors' luck. They were still attempting to recover their initial poise when, seven minutes later, Juan Mata's corner was half-cleared by Connor Wickham to David Luiz on the edge of the box.
The Brazilian had time to compose himself before dragging a shot into the clutter in the penalty area, with Branislav Ivanovic reacting cutely to divert the attempt goalwards with the inside of his right boot. Mignolet, again wrongfooted, could not prevent it dribbling into the far corner.
The visitors huffed and puffed in arrears, never quite able to gain the clear-cut sight of goal they so craved, and ended up disconsolate and craving for better news from down the road at Loftus Road.
What made it all the more galling was Sunderland had actually merited their lead at the interval, the advantage earned not though any panache inspired by the new manager but, rather, sheer industry and a stubborn refusal to be eclipsed by Chelsea's more creative talents.
Alfred N'Diaye and Craig Gardner – the latter perhaps fortunate to escape harsher punishment for a wild challenge on Demba Ba, for all that his 10th caution of the season will rule him out of the next two games – had worked feverishly to stifle Mata and Eden Hazard, with Wickham a muscular presence to unsettle the home side's back line.
The visitors' own rearguard harried and hassled Chelsea off their rhythm. They were organised and resolute, generating half-chances en route until, in the last minute of the period, Adam Johnson's corner arced just beyond Petr Cech and was sliced into his own net by César Azpilicueta.
For the duration of the interval, Sunderland's travelling support pinched themselves at the prospect of enjoying breathing space in the scrap near the foot of the table. Thereafter, reality quickly choked them again.