United Kingdom Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio knows history is not on his side as he attempts to build on his team’s derby triumph at Newcastle United by beating Everton on Saturday.
Sunderland have not won against Everton since 2001, but Di Canio dismisses any talk of a hoodoo.
“The players don’t know the stats,” he said. “Our problem is only the fact Everton are a very strong side.
“We must give our best performance for this game because they are one of the top sides in this league. I love the way they play. They have a clear identity from their manager.”
That manager is David Moyes, who has not lost in his last 19 encounters with Sunderland, and with his side challenging for a top-four finish, he does not want that sequence to end.
But Moyes is aware that this is an awkward time to be facing Sunderland, whose supporters have been galvanised by the win over Newcastle, which took their side three points clear of the relegation zone.
Di Canio has become an instant hero for many of them, but it is a label that the Italian shuns.
He said: “It’s easy to make heroes, but I don’t want to be a hero next year. Maybe one day, if we win something, they can call me a hero. If I become the best manager in the club’s history, they can call me a hero -- even though I don’t like the adjective.”
Di Canio’s belief that Sunderland can build on their derby success by overcoming Everton has been strengthened by his work with the players in the wake of the 3-0 win on Tyneside.
“It can be poison instead of an extra lift. But the last few days have made me happy because because they were really focused,” he said.
“It was a very good step forward last week, but I hope the fans don’t expect us to win 3-0. It will be enough for me if we win with an own goal in the 90th minute.
“We are not Barcelona, we are still Sunderland, but we have some players of very good quality.”
Everton are two points behind fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur, who have a game in hand, and four behind Arsenal, who occupy the fourth and final Champions League place.
Moyes’ side followed up a 2-0 win over Queens Park Rangers with a goalless draw at Arsenal in mid-week, but defender Phil Jagielka believes that draws are simply not good enough at this stage of the campaign.
“It’s important that we try and get as many clean sheets as possible until the end of the season and hopefully rely on the players up front to try and nick us a goal or two,” Jagielka said.
“We did that against QPR and going to the Emirates during the week is another very positive clean sheet, but it would have been nice to have nicked a goal and put them under some pressure.
“We’ve got to start turning these draws into wins if we are going to keep potentially challenging for the top four.
“Saturday is going to be a very important game and I’m sure the manager is looking forward to that now. Hopefully we can keep another clean sheet and score a goal or two.”
England international Jagielka remains wary of the threat posed by Sunderland following Di Canio’s arrival.
“I saw little bits of Sunderland’s win at Newcastle on the television. I hope they don’t score as many world-class goals as they did in that game,” he said.
“It often happens when a new manager comes in and fortunes can turn around. He’s obviously got his players fired up and they did pretty well against Chelsea (a 2-1 defeat) as well. It will be a really tough game.”