It would be unrealistic to draw from two card-free performances the notion that Lee Cattermole will not see yellow again relatively soon, and red again some time thereafter. For now, Luke Harvey is happy to salute a much-criticised character for trying to set his house in order …
As Sunderland left the field with a point against Manchester United, a mixture of emotions overcame me.
Should I be pleased with another point against another powerhouse team from the finest league in the world? Or should I be disappointed that we failed to get all three points in a match where we were more than deserving?
In many ways it was an even mixture of the two, and as I dug a little deeper into the team’s cohesive performance, I realised it was led by a much maligned character in the Sunderland midfield.
Lee Cattermole has been the subject of a lot of abuse from both fans of his own club, and those of others. “A thug,” one person labelled him as we discussed his sending off in the league opener against Birmingham, when a 2-0 lead was squandered.
“A waste of oxygen,” was another – admittedly over the top – comment that came from a Newcastle United supporting friend of mine when the midfield general’s over-zealous tackling saw him sent off against his former employers Wigan Athletic.
Even Cattermole’s antics have been called into question here at the generally reserved Salut! Sunderland. The most worrying fact is the points he may have cost us against both Birmingham and Wigan by being sent off and forcing the team to play with ten men for the majority of the match. Our disciplinary record last season was as poor as our away form was, and it would appear that this is a trend that has continued into the current season.
With a big match against Manchester United upcoming, you could be excused for feeling worried about the possibilities of the club captain once again seeing red, but the performance he turned in was nothing to worry over. He showed incredible restrain in the fifty-fifty balls, and remained on his feet when only the previous week he would have gone to ground in a reckless challenge.
However this was anything but a tame performance. Fletcher, Scholes, Nani and Anderson were afforded no time on the ball; as soon as one of the midfield quartet picked up the ball they were greeted by Cattermole getting in their face and pressurising them into mistakes. The result was a United team that were forced to play the ball backwards many more times than they were used to, and it was largely down to Cattermole’s determined – and most importantly – sensible play and seemingly endless running.
Has Steve Bruce finally got through to the young star? Perhaps so, but it’s probably too early to tell at this stage. What we now need to see is consistently similar performances from Cattermole. He’s a marked man in this league now, referee’s know to keep an eye on him and everyone of his challenges will be extensively scrutinised by referees. The rest of the league know of his reputation, too, and it was nail-biting to see Nani cut inside and Cattermole move to intercept him.
You got the feeling it would take no more than a limp flop to the floor from the rightly criticised Nani and a yellow card would soon be shown to Cattermole. However my fears were put to rest as Cattermole lasted the entire match without being booked, and despite running on empty for the last ten minutes of the match he still refused to slow down or stop chasing every loose ball on the pitch.
On Monday week he has the small issue of dealing with a midfield likely to contain the towering and controlling Steven N’Zonzi and the frustrating El-Hadji Diouf, and the world will be watching on Sky Sports. A disciplined performance against Blackburn Rovers, live on Sky, will do wonders for showing people his strengths; and not just his regularly mentioned weakness.