SUNDERLAND — There was a huge turning point in Sunderland’s 3-1 defeat to Arsenal at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.
One of those ‘game-changing’ moments that is the difference between grabbing a point or losing.
In the 70th minute U.S. international Jozy Altidore wriggled free of Arsenal defender Bacary Sagna before being hauled back on the edge of the box by Sagna.
But Altidore then carried on and slotted the ball into the goal and ran off to celebrate what he thought was his first Premier League goal for the Black Cats. Not so fast, Jozy.
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Referee Martin Atkinson, much to the dismay of the packed Sunderland crowd, had whistled for a foul on the USMNT striker just prior to Altidore putting the ball into the back of the net, which would have made it 2-2. Despite Sunderland having a clear advantage and still in possession of the ball heading towards goal, the referee believed calling the foul was the correct decisions.
The majority of fans in the Stadium of Light strongly disagreed. So did Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio.
“It is a mistake,” Di Canio said. “The referee has the power to wait and finish the dynamics and finish this moment and then come back and make his decision. He made a mistake. You can see Altidore is much more powerful than Sagna. He shield the ball well, it was clear that he was going to win the challenge.”
And postgame as he fastened his Sunderland club tie tightly around his neck, Di Canio was under no illusion that Mr. Atkinson had cost his side at least a point from the game.
“That was a key moment,” Di Canio said. “It was obvious that we wouldn’t have many more chances to score, so that decided the outcome of the game. It can happen, he’s a man. He made a mistake, there is no opinion. I think it is clear.”
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If Altidore’s goal would have stood the Mackems would have equalized just moments after going 2-1 down. It would have been a really momentum changing moment that could have grabbed Sunderland a point.
Instead they have now lost three from the first four games and sit bottom of the table.
Frustration from that situation boiled over late in the game as Di Canio protested Olivier Giroud’s slow removal from the pitch as he was substituted in injury-time. Sunderland’s fiery Italian manager believed the French striker was time wasting and as he tried to tell the referee to hurry things along, Di Canio was sent away from the dugout after his over-zealous remonstration.
“I invited the referee, I tried to persuade the referee to push him quick out,” Di Canio said. “Because four minutes added time, I’m sure that if you lose two minutes and half I don’t think they’re going to add it on. That was my protest. ‘You have to tell them to go out quick.'”
Referee Atkinson told Di Canio that he would send him to the stand if he continued… this time the Italian pushed his luck too far.
“The problem is he told me, ‘If you keep going with your manner, I send you off. I send you up to the stand,'”, Di Canio said. “My mistake was that I invited him and say that if you want to complete the perfect job today, you have to send me off and then he said ‘go off.'”
But despite his side still searching for their first league win of the season and languishing at the bottom of the Premier League table with one point, Di Canio was surprisingly upbeat.
“In the second half for half hour we dominated,” Di Canio said. “I hope that my team can play how we did in the second half and play this football with this determination, desire, quality. We just have to stay on top. Even in the first half, we have to be honest, Arsenal completely dominated the game. They had many chances, with Arsenal that can happen.”
The early season struggle for Di Canio and Sunderland goes on.
“In the end I am obviously not happy with the result,” Di Canio said. “But I have to look at the best from this game which is a fantastic first half hour in the second half.”