Premier League

Di Canio confident of survival

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Sat, 13 Apr 2013 10:58:00

Rickie Lambert has tipped Southampton team-mate Jay Rodriguez to break into the England squad if he can maintain his current form.

Lambert and Rodriguez have linked up impressively in attack in recent weeks to help Saints pull away from the relegation scrap and take up a position in mid-table.

While Lambert has strengthened his own case for international recognition with 14 Premier League goals this season, he feels Rodriguez should also be in Roy Hodgson's thoughts.

"I think it is only a matter of time before Jay does get a chance with England if he carries on like this," said Lambert.

"Everyone has seen what a good player he is. It makes my job so much easier when playing alongside him."

"He is like a player reborn. At the start of the season he wasn't as confident as he hoped he would be - but slowly and surely the confidence has come back."

The Tannadice outfit take on Neil Lennon's men at Hampden on Sunday in the Scottish Cup semi-finals.

But memories of the clubs' last meeting - a 6-2 mauling for United at Celtic Park in February - are still painfully fresh in McNamara's mind.

The former Hoops defender made his first return to Parkhead as a manager and saw his side take a surprise 10th-minute lead through Stuart Armstrong.

But within a minute, Efe Ambrose had nodded home the equaliser from a corner before Celtic cantered to a comfortable win with doubles from Kris Commons and Anthony Stokes and a strike from Joe Ledley.

Johnny Russell added a stoppage-time consolation effort but McNamara fears his side could suffer again if they do not retain their focus.

He said: "The scoreline the last time we faced them at Parkhead was a bit embarrassing. When we went down there, we showed we can create chances.

"We got ourselves an early lead but couldn't put a stop to them getting a goal right after we had scored. Those are the little things you need to be a bit stronger on. We need to defend set-pieces better.

"The biggest thing with playing Celtic is the concentration and focus. If you switch off in games, you can get away with it against some teams. But Celtic will punish you.

"That was evident at Celtic Park. We scored a goal but then lost a corner and they scored from it. Suddenly, from being ahead, we lost a couple more before half-time and were up against it.

"We need the whole team to be playing to their best and concentrating on their jobs."

However, there are signs that McNamara - who replaced Peter Houston as Tannadice manager earlier this year - has managed to instil a tougher mindset amongst his squad since that humiliating defeat.

United battled on until the 93rd minute against Aberdeen to grab a late winner through Rory Boulding last weekend, clinching themselves a place in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League's top six.

"Are the players stronger mentally? I hope so - I think so," said the manager. "That's obviously down to the players. The most important thing is how they handle the challenge of playing Celtic.

"We need to get them to enjoy the game and to keep going to the end - not to give up. That's something we have put into our training. If you lose the ball, go and get it back and keep it. That's the sort of things that cause other teams problems.

"We know it's a big ask to go down there and beat Celtic as they are obviously the best team in the country but it is up to us to go and do things properly."

While runway SPL leaders Celtic face the burden of ending a three-game losing streak at Hampden, McNamara does not accept his players will run out at Mount Florida free from stress following their last-gasp heroics against the Dons.

He said: "There is always pressure. We have got a good support going down for the game and we have to take care of our own performance. We're not just there to make up the numbers.

"We've got our own pride, so that brings its own pressure.

"It would be fantastic for everyone connected with the club to reach a final. We've been fortunate with the way things went to reach the top six. But I don't think we should ever be relying on other teams to do us a favour.

"Dundee beat Kilmarnock and that made it possible for us to overtake Killie. But from our point of view, you saw the emotion at the end with the last-minute winner against Aberdeen. We're just hoping to have more moments like that."

Di Canio is preparing for his first Tyne-Wear derby on Sunday after replacing Martin O'Neill as Sunderland manager, and is desperate for a win to ease his side's relegation worries.

Sunderland are currently only outside the drop zone on goal difference, but Di Canio is convinced they will stay up.

"I'm not worried," he said. "It's not just about trying or hoping in life, it's about doing things.

"If it doesn't work, Di Canio is a donkey - bye bye. But I'm sure Di Canio is a stallion and I will deliver the right job for my players in the future."

Di Canio has ambitious plans for the future and insists Sunderland can eclipse Newcastle and establish themselves as the biggest club in the North-East.

"Not now, but in the future? Yes. Absolutely yes. The plan is amazing. First we have to make sure we stay up, that will be okay. If we do, it will not happen in a week or a month, it will be one or two seasons.

"Newcastle is a massive club but Sunderland is too. The problem is this massive club has not been used in the right way.

"There are 40-50,000 followers every game and this club has spent money so it is not acceptable where it has been for the last two years. With the right organisation, plan and policy in the future, things will change to give us a chance.

"We want to fight for something other than just avoiding relegation."

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