April 07, 2013
Sunderland has lost six of its last eight, and sits in 17th place, just one spot away from relegation.
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Chelsea condemned Paolo Di Canio to a losing start as manager of relegation-threatened Sunderland, coming from behind to win 2-1 and rise to third in the Premier League on Sunday.

Cesar Azpilicueta's own goal on the stroke of half time gave Di Canio the perfect start, but Sunderland collapsed after the break.

The game's second own goal two minutes into the second half saw Matthew Kilgallon inadvertently hook the ball over the line after Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet had blocked Oscar's shot.

Branislav Ivanovic got Chelsea's winner in the 55th minute, flicking David Luiz's shot into the net and sending his team above Arsenal and Tottenham into third.

"We didn't start well and gave the ball away easily,'' Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez said. "We conceded a late goal but had a good reaction in the second half and were very positive.''

The loss left Sunderland only out of the relegation zone due to a superior goal difference over Wigan with six matches to go.

"It's not the fittest team in the world but we are going to work to give them more energy in the next few days and weeks,'' Di Canio said.

Di Canio replaced Martin O'Neill last Sunday, provoking widespread outrage over past apparent fascist allegiances.

It took the Italian three days to renounce previous comments and actions after his appointment prompted Sunderland vice chairman David Miliband, a former British Foreign Secretary, to quit in protest at the new manager's "past political statements.''

Di Canio swerved all questions after the match about the fallout from his most recent statement distancing himself from fascism, with Sunderland's media trying to ban non-football questions.

After a turbulent week, Stamford Bridge afforded Di Canio a surprisingly tranquil introduction to Premier League management, with the former West Ham striker escaping any abuse as he spent most of the game standing on the touchline instructing his new team.

The game started at a pace that reflected the fact this was Chelsea's fourth game in nine days, with the hosts laboring as the pursuit of success in the FA Cup and Europa League taking its toll on the squad.

While Benitez might be happier to end his contentious time at Chelsea next month with a trophy, the club's priority is a top-four finish and Champions League qualification.

But it was Sunderland's survival hopes that looked like being the beneficiaries of this encounter when Chelsea gifted the visitors the lead.

Adam Johnson's corner was headed on by John O'Shea and Azpilicueta, when trying to clear, hooked the ball with his right foot past his own goalkeeper, Petr Cech.

Chelsea striker Demba Ba, struggling with an injury, was replaced at half time by Fernando Torres, who scored twice in the 3-1 victory over Rubin Kazan on Thursday in the Europa League quarter final first-leg.

Torres made an immediate impact after the break with a key role in the equalizer.

The Spain striker charged down the left flank and squared to Oscar, whose shot was blocked by Simon Mignolet and the ball spun off Matthew Kilgallon's leg and drifted over the line where Danny Rose slipped.

Chelsea's second was also slightly fortunate, with Ivanovic appearing to be unaware the ball was heading to him from Luiz when he turned the ball into the net.

"We were on top of them ... and had control of the game,'' Benitez said. "We didn't score the third, we had to defend.''

The match was won, and Di Canio, for all his gesticulating from the sidelines, could do nothing to prevent Sunderland sliding to a sixth loss in eight games.

Despite his only previous experience in the dugout being a spell at lowly Swindon - taking them from the fourth to third tier - Di Canio was hired by Sunderland's American owner, Ellis Short, in a last-ditch attempt to keep the team in the topflight.

Now Di Canio has just six more games to keep Sunderland out of the bottom three.

Benitez, meanwhile, can prepare for the Europa League quarterfinal second-leg and FA Cup semifinal against Manchester City on Sunday fresh from a week when he no longer faced abuse from his own fans.

"The feeling is that everybody has realized we have to stick together - we have to support the team,'' Benitez said. "That is the best way.''

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