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The new manager says his misfiring striker struggled with confidence and the pace of the game, but has now backed him to come good as the club fight to avoid relegation

Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio has revealed that January signing Danny Graham was not match fit when he took over at the Stadium of Light.

The 27-year-old arrived from Swansea for £5 million midway through the season, but has failed to score in 10 outings.

Di Canio, however, is more positive about Graham's future output after noticing a marked improvement in his confidence in recent weeks.

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"When I arrived, Danny simply was not fit, not fit enough to play in the Premier League, in my opinion," Di Canio told The Northern Echo. "I do not want to point the finger just at him because that was a general thing.

"He also 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 couldn't pass because that was fantastic. So I talked to him about this. Now, after three games, it has changed. Why? Because he feels part of the club. He participates now."

The 6-1 loss to Aston Villa saw Sunderland dragged back into the relegation mire following back-to-back wins and now lie just two points off 18th-placed Wigan ahead of Monday night's visit of Stoke, and Di Canio has backed Graham to come good before the end of the season.

"It is normal for someone like Danny to score every two or three games so I know what it is like for a player who normally scores goals," the Italian continued. "I have been talking to him about how we can use his quality depending on how we are going to attack the opposition.

"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. He is doing well. I see him in training every day in a good mood and he is very closely involved in the way we go through the drills. He is always the one trying to persuade his team-mates to give more.

"He is active, he is not passive. He is not sad, not down. Players can have problems, but Danny has no problems, for sure. I am sure he will be crucial in these last three games and I'm not saying that because he is the only striker we've got. I'm sure he is going to score in the next three matches."

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