Di Canio: Danny Graham was not fit to play in the league when I arrived at Sunderland

Sunderland manager remains confident his striker will score before the season is out

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The Independent Football

Ahead of tonight's Premier League match against Stoke City that Sunderland desperately need to win to move away from the relegation zone, Paolo Di Canio has claimed that his striker Danny Graham was not fit enough to play in the league when he took charge of the club in April.

Graham had been signed from Swansea City for £5.5m during the January transfer window by former Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill. The striker has still to score since making his move to the Stadium of Light, but Di Canio believes that is understandable because the player he inherited, like some of his team-mates, was not fit.

"When I arrived Danny, simply, was not fit," he said. "He was not fit enough to play in the Premier League, in my opinion. I do not want to point just the finger at him because that was a general thing.

"He had a long face as he walked around the field during the first few training sessions and I thought, 'Can he play football?' Not because he could not pass, because that was fantastic. So I talked to him about this. Now after three games it has changed and why? Because he feels part of the club. He participates now.

"When the players go through the drills, Danny is intelligent and he is more ready and this is why I am confident he will score. He will get his chance, especially at home, because we will attack more. I know what is going on with a player that normally scores. It is normal for someone like Danny to score every two or three games. I have been talking to him about how we can use his quality depending on how we are going to attack.

"I always encourage him, but I don't have to go too deep with Danny and convince him because this is not a bad moment for him and he is doing well. I see him every day in training in a good mood. He is always the one trying to persuade his team-mates to give more. So he is active, he is not passive. He is not sad, not down.

"Players can have problems, but Danny has no problems. I am sure he will be crucial in these last three games. I'm not saying that because he is the only striker we have got: I'm sure he is going to score in the next three games."

Sunderland have been dragged back into the relegation fight following the weekend wins for Aston Villa and Wigan Athletic. They sit just two points above Wigan and the necessity for victory against Stoke at the Stadium of Light (something they must do without strikers Steven Fletcher, who is injured, and Stéphane Sessègnon, who is banned) – has increased dramatically.

"We have to win," added Di Canio. "We fell in a trap [when they lost 6-1 against Aston Villa in their previous game]. I don't think we're so stupid. Now we have a big scar in our body to remind us that if we get beat like this we can get beat again. I'm sure we'll perform properly. It doesn't mean we'll win 3-0, it means we will perform with desire, dedication and commitment like against Newcastle and Everton.

"We play on Monday night in front of our fans. I can bet everything I've got that there will be no repeat. We could still lose because you can lose at any time and against side, but I am sure you will see a different approach and a different desire and they won't be worried about getting the ball. It will be two steps forward instead of 10 steps back. I am sure they are going to approach this game in a completely different way."

Probable teams at the Stadium of Light

Kick-off 8pm Television Sky Sports 1

Referee L Mason (Lancs)

Odds: Sunderland Evens Draw 12-5 Stoke 3-1