Di Canio pleased for Sunderland after 'massive point' against Stoke

Di Canio says Sunderland need to control their aggression after seeing Craig Gardner sent off after just 34 minutes. Photo: PA

Sunderland boss Paolo Di Canio believes his side's hard-fought draw against Stoke could prove critical to the Barclays Premier League relegation battle.

At half-time the chances of the Black Cats getting anything from the fixture looked remote, with Jonathan Walters' ninth-minute goal separating the sides and Craig Gardner having been dismissed for a nasty challenge on Charlie Adam.

Playing with 10 men last week at Aston Villa, Sunderland were hammered 6-1 but Di Canio delivered on his promise that there would be no repeat performance.

They put in fine display after the break, bristling with energy and fully deserving the equaliser that arrived from the unlikely source of John O'Shea following a 63rd-minute corner.

The result takes the club three points above Wigan in the drop zone and in front of both Newcastle and Norwich on goal difference.

"It was a massive point for us. This point will be crucial at the end of the season, for sure," said Di Canio.

"With the way it came this point is vital. We deserved a point from this game, maybe we deserved even more."

But as well as that assessment, there was also a warning from Di Canio that his team cannot keep making life hard for themselves if their luck is to hold.

Using a typically florid turn of phrase, the Italian added: "In some way we are a masochistic team.

"After 10 minutes we gave an easy goal away even though we knew before kick-off that they had five or six who are giants compared to our physical presence.

"The first corner kick we conceded we give a goal away. Then you saw Craig's bad challenge.

"We have to be careful and to handle our aggression. We have to make sure we don't repeat the same mistakes otherwise we are in real trouble.

"I love Craig because he has heart, passion, dedication. He is an amazing professional but now we have to be careful because there are two games to go and we do not have the time to recover from these mistakes.

"He was down, very sad and at the end of the game he said sorry. I'd like to see my players walk inside the dressing and not have to say sorry.

"It's another mistake and it can happen but we need to improve this."

Stoke would have confirmed their top-flight status for another year had they held on to their lead, but they are nevertheless highly unlikely to be dragged back in to the scrap.

In previous seasons their current tally would have already been enough to keep them up, but Pulis acknowledges this has been no ordinary season at the bottom.

"The league is very surreal this year. If you look at the table we are 11th with two games to go and we're still not mathematically safe," he said.

"I've been in the Premier League for five years with Stoke now and I've never known it this tight.

"But we are very pleased to have 41 points. I'm amazed it isn't sorted out yet. It's one of those funny seasons."

Pulis also had praise for the way the Black Cats went about their business having lost Gardner.

"You've got to give Sunderland credit. They displayed a lot of spirit and a lot of togetherness," he said.

"The crowd and the team became as one and it made life very difficult for us."