Full-time: Sunderland 1 Kidderminster 0
ON a day when Paolo Di Canio delivered another timely reminder of the turbulent start to a season which could still end disastrously, there was something satisfying about a marginal win over non-league opposition in the FA Cup.
At a time when Sunderland's owner Ellis Short thinks things are looking brighter under Gus Poyet after booking a Wembley date in March, Di Canio chose fourth round weekend to direct his latest swipe at the players and aspects of the club he left behind.
Despite using words such as “cowards” to describe players who rebelled against the manager after he had “saved the club” last season, there can be no disguising the mess the Italian left behind in September.
A dressing room split, a squad completely shorn of confidence and defensive deficiencies which pointed to nothing more than relegation to the Championship.
Throw in the sacking of director of football Roberto De Fanti – the man largely responsible for the appointment of Di Canio and the huge turnover in personnel in the summer – and the start of the campaign was one to forget.
Yet Sunderland have given themselves a lifeline in the fight for Premier League survival in recent weeks and can call themselves Capital One Cup finalists - all while working on ways of improving the squad.
So perhaps a lacklustre, largely anaemic display against Conference side Kidderminster on Saturday should be glossed over. After all, a place in round five of the FA Cup was delivered despite Poyet resting almost all of his preferred starting line up.
Mission accomplished? “This is a very good disappointment: no injuries, a win and I rest key players,” smiled Poyet, hardly enamoured by his team's display against Harriers.
“That’s why I’m not going to analyse this game too much or in a crazy manner because there’s not too much to analyse, although I will work a little harder on the finer points.
“Those who played here and those who played on Wednesday against Manchester United, need to hit the target when they shoot, make the right decisions, have better movement in the box. Our timing still isn’t right to score goals.
“It’s partly about the individuals, it’s partly on the training ground. That is something that disappoints me still and we have got to do better.
“We had 23 shots here against Kidderminster but perhaps we shot too early too many times. The other day at Old Trafford I was really surprised to find out that our first shot on target was Phil Bardsley's in the 119th minute.
“We had a few chances, but first one on target? That’s scary, very scary. That is not good. It’s up to us.”
Being creative is exactly what Poyet has been trying to address on the training ground. Privately he will hold stronger thoughts on what he witnessed over the weekend.
Despite making ten changes, he would still have expected a starting line-up consisting of many internationals to comfortably outclass the lowest ranked side remaining in the FA Cup.
But with the exception of Charis Mavrias slotting in a lovely winner inside the fifth minute on his second start since moving from Panathinaikos last summer, Kidderminster's goalkeeper Danny Lewis was rarely posed a serious question.
Emanuele Giaccherini buzzed around with intent in the hope of convincing Poyet that he can play in a central midfield role in a lone striker system.
Lee Cattermole ticked things over in the middle, without showing the same tenacity he required against Manchester United a few days earlier.
But overall the pace of the tie was played like a training session, meaning comfortable debuts for goalkeeper Oscar Ustari and defender Santiago Vergini following their moves from Almeria and Estudiantes last week.
Goalscorer Charis Mavrias causes chaos in the Kidderminster defence
Kidderminster could have pinched a replay had either of Danny Jackman or Frederick Ladapo hit the target from decent opportunities in the last few minutes.
But Poyet said: “It’s true - I said I wanted a game with no drama. People have said ‘wow, what about the last ten minutes’ but I wasn’t nervous. Not really.
“I can understand why they were saying that because every time the ball crossed the halfway line their fans were jumping around but there wasn’t really any danger.
“If you’d said before the game these 11 players would perform the way they did in the opening 20 minutes I would probably have taken that, especially with no injuries and getting 90 minutes out of some of the players.”
It was another frustrating afternoon for £6m striker Jozy Altidore in a Sunderland shirt. Any confidence he arrived from Holland with last summer appears to have completely disappeared.
Altidore, prolific in the Eredivisie with Alkmaar, saw an early near post effort cleared off the line by full-back Lee Vaughan. After that he rarely posed a problem to a non-league defence which should have provided an ideal opportunity for him to find his shooting boots.
Instead his hold up play, which was his biggest strength earlier in the campaign, deserted him too and Poyet is considering giving Fabio Borini an opportunity to play in his preferred central attacking role.
The Sunderland boss said: “I have considered playing Borini through the middle and this was one of those days. But he has had a few knocks so we didn’t want to start with him. It’s getting very close to the day that he starts through the middle.”
Altidore is not the only player whose position will be under threat. Poyet said: “There were a few of them that showed they can be useful to us, but there were a few who didn’t have a good day. It will be a little bit difficult for them with us, but I’m not going to give any names. It’s there and you could see it - there’s no place to hide.”