“It’s becoming ridiculous.” When a manager says that about his captain, and he’s not defending him but describing his immaturity and indiscipline, you know things are serious. Pete Sixsmith chose the headline; it’s unforgiving but reflects the complete exasperation of supporters Lee Cattermole has again let down …
We are sitting tenth in the league, a position that would probably keep us happy if it were May. However, after four games, three of which were against sides we had hoped to beat, a return of five points is a little disappointing.
Of course, had we managed to keep 11 players on the field for 50 per cent of those games, there is every possibility that we would have had nine points and would have been sitting pretty in third place with Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United to come.
That we are not is not down to the manager picking the wrong team or the players not being good enough. Bruce has made sensible selections and we have a group of players as good as any in the middle echelons of this league.
However, we also have Lee Cattermole – or at least we do for a portion of the first half. In 66 per cent of his games this season he has trooped off on his own after a pair of yellow cards and we have found ourselves surrendering winning positions due to lack of numbers.
On Saturday, the script was written before the game. The combination of Andre Marriner, a ref who seems to like sending Sunderland players off, and a return to his old stamping ground was too much for Cattermole and he was, probably rightly, sent off after 22 minutes.
His first card looked harsh, but Marriner had penalised him for two fouls previously and made it clear that the booking was accumulative. The second one was even more stupid than Kieran Richardson’s at Old Trafford last year.
Rodagella had broken down the right and Cattermole had done really well to get back with him. All he had to do was to stop the Colombian from cutting in – push him wide and force him into putting in a harmless cross. But that’s not Lee’s game. In went the tackle, down went Rodagella, out came the red card, preceded by the second yellow.
As he made his way to the tunnel, he must have realised that he was a man alone. The packed Sunderland end made it clear what they thought of the sending off as they roundly booed him all the way off. I have rarely heard such unanymity from the away support and he would do well to think about it. It’s as if we no longer trust him.
Other than that, it was a pretty impressive performance. We set off with Bent up front on his own, Elmohamady and Wellbeck wide and Malbranque, Henderson and Cattermole in the middle. It seemed to be working until the sending off and we had to reorganise. Off went the Egyptian Beckham and on came the World Cup star, Riveros.
He had found his introduction to Premier League football difficult at West Brom and he took a while to get fully involved in this one. But when he did, he showed what a very good footballer he is.
His passing was sharp and crisp, he brought the ball out well and if he could not get a tackle in, he jockeyed players wide rather than jumped in. Hopefully, he will have the opportunity to build on this in Cattermole’s enforced absence.
The back four looked solid again, with Bramble and Ferdinand working well, while the keeper had his best game so far. He claims the ball well and made a very brave save at the feet of Boselli in the second half. The fortunate deflection for the equaliser must have frustrated him as much as it did me.
Gyan’s goal was a gem, partly for the finish and partly for the wonderful build up by Jordan Henderson. He destroyed Figuerola (no need to sign him, Steve) and put over a cross that was begging to be blasted into the net. It was and by a player who looked tired and leggy after only 10 minutes on the pitch. But when that ball came in, he showed his instincts and went for it. The away end was just a little bit pleased.
It was a good day out all round. It’s a fairly short journey and the A66/M6 is so much more interesting than the dreary A1. We were in Wigan by noon and were settled into a fine pub called the Anvil where Allgates Brewery is situated. Their California Bitter and All Blacks Stout was mightily impressive.
A pleasant stroll along the canal banks to the DW in the early autumn sunshine set us up for a game which, if not exactly season defining, made a few things very clear to us. Firstly ,we have a strong squad, secondly we have a sound management team and finally, we need a new captain.
As for the Latics, I just have the feeling that this is the year they will slide away. I hope I am wrong- they are a friendly club and have a very sensible pricing policy, but their support, although loyal, is not great, and with the resurgence of the Rugby League team, they may well be squeezed. And get rid of that bloody drum; they are even more irritating than vuvuzelas and add nothing to the atmosphere.