LONDON:  Sunderland’s first match under the controversial managership of Paolo Di Canio ended in a 2-1 defeat at Chelsea which, while not a surprise, places further questions against the decision to sack Martin O’Neill so late in the season in the first place.

Di Canio’s appointment in place of  O’Neill had prompted week-long controversy over his admiration for Mussolini until he was finally pushed into stating that he did not support ‘the ideology of fascism.’

The Italian had the start he wanted when Cesar Azpilicueta’s own goal gave Sunderland a surprise lead moments before half-time. But Chelsea were in front 10 minutes after the interval as a result of another own goal, this time a deflection off Matt Kilgallon, and Branislav Ivanovic’s touch on a David Luiz shot.

Di Canio was the fifth manager to start his time in a Premier League job with a trip to Stamford Bridge. None of the five have come away with a victory. Next Sunday’s derby away to Newcastle United assumes even greater importance.

Tottenham had to thank a late equaliser from Gylfi Sigurdsson for keeping their Champions League hopes alive but it was a desperately close thing in a 2-2 draw with Everton at White Hart Lane.

Tottenham have a fragile aura about them. It was evident last Thursday when they conceded two early goals at home to Basel in the Europa League and recovered for a draw at the expense of an ankle injury to inspirational Gareth Bale.

Manager Andre Villas-Boas rotated his team to be at near-full strength against Everton. His good fortune is that Chelsea’s progress to the FA Cup semi-final has meant the postponement of the derby scheduled for April 14. That will now drop in after the visit of Manchester City on April 21 for which Bale could be fit.

Bale’s injury has opened up more opportunity for Lewis Holtby and for Gylfi Sigurdsson who had scored two goals in Iceland’s recent internationals and then again against Basel.

Everton missed suspended Steven Pienaar and Marouane Fellaini but came into the game boasting the cachet of being up with Real Madrid as the only clubs to have beaten both Manchester clubs this season.

Holtby’s father comes from Liverpool and is an Everton fan.Before kick-off Holtby junior recalled: “It’s an emotional game for me because I supported Everton in my childhood. We didn’t really have the money to go to Goodison but I watched them all the time on television.

“Everton have been buzzing, like us, and hoping for a Europa League or maybe even a Champions League place. Our job is to end their hopes.”

That Spurs failed to do was the fault of lax defending after a 35-second goal start from Emmanuel Adebayor. Phil Jagieka equalised with a header from a corner then Kevin Mirallas was allowed to run through the defence seven minutes after the interval for an Everton second.

Spurs were looked ragged for much of the second half but after Dembele hit the bar they began to believe in themselves again. Sigurdsson equalised and Hugo Lloris saved the point with a fine late save from Victor Anichebe.

But clearly missing Bale means missing confidence. Villas-Boas hopes he recovers fitness as soon as possible. Spurs’ Champions League dream depends upon it.

A last-minute free kick goal from Shaun Maloney dented QPR’s hopes of beating the drop as it earned a 1-1 draw at Loftus Road for fellow strugglers and FA Cup semi-finalists Wigan.

QPR manager Harry Redknapp thought he had all but secured three desperately-needed points with a goal five minutes earlier from January signing Loic Remy.

# # # #