Our series of reports on the season just ended is nearly complete. Luke Harvey, who famously brings down the average age of Salut! Sunderland contributors, edges us towards the climax (Pete Sixsmith’s magisterial pronouncements, due any day soon). Luke ponders the league we did win – for the team with the top flight’s most shocking disciplinary record …
Sunderland beat off competition from Hull City on the final day of the season to secure the most red cards in the season, having already secured the Worst Disciplinary Trophy sometime ago. Going into the last day, Sunderland had accumulated seven red cards to Hull’s six – making for a tense final day.
They came late, but came nonetheless, Michael Turner and Jack Colback – the latter on his debut – were both ordered off to ensure Sunderland were head and shoulders above the rest as the most unruly team in the entire league.
In all seriousness, our woeful disciplinary record is something that must be addressed before next season as nine red cards in a season is not only embarrassing, but also a hindrance to our efforts on the pitch. Nine sending offs works out at nearly 25 per cent of the seasons matches being finished without a full team on the field.
In the “Yo-Yo Years”, which is generally accepted as a specific time in history, a team like ourselves would pride ourselves on kicking players who were a lot better than us to try and level out the playing field.
The proof is in the punch as you look at our fellow miscreants in the class of 2010 toughs, Bolton, Portsmouth and Hull City, all just above us in the disciplinary table – and each of them teams trying to fight off relegation, two of them unsuccessfully.
Steve Bruce may have identified us as being a soft touch prior to the season, and if he did then it’s safe to say he probably over-addressed the situation.
He brought in Lorik Cana and Lee Cattermole to control the centre of midfield by any means possible. Injuries would break that partnership up more and more in the final months of the season.
The partnership began well, but became more and more fragile as the season wore on. Lorik Cana finished the season on 55 fouls, 10 yellow cards and 1 red card, yet his performances still sat well with the Sunderland fans as he started the season in impressive fashion.
At times during the famous beach ball victory against Liverpool, he single handedly kept the opposition at bay from the centre of defence.
While the rough and physical style of play is a large part of football in today’s Premiership, even if Arsene Wenger would rather it were not, more often than not we went too far beyond the line. It became less a matter of disrupting our opponents, more a distressing pattern of self-harm.
At times in the season we were bad enough with all 11 players on the pitch, so to have one or two fewer made life even more difficult than it already was as players often lost their heads in the face of pressure.
The main problem with our lack of discipline isn’t from a collection of thug-like players. We don’t have players in our team who like to mount a downed player on the training ground and punch until they can punch no longer like a certain Joey Barton. Our main problem stems from having a group of excessively committed, reckless and often clumsy players.
Alan Hutton’s conceded penalty in the recent Wolverhampton “horror show”, as Bruce later lamented, is a perfect example of clumsy challenges – and they weren’t just consigned to one section of the season. Rewind all the way to the 3-1 defeat at Burnley in September – another “horror show” if I say so myself – where, after a whole five minutes of football Anton Ferdinand, charged across the penalty box like a bull that had just seen red and collided with Martin Paterson.
Unfortunately, for some players, these silly, blundering tackles occurred once too often and they would see flashes of red or yellow. We can all easily think back to a 70/30 ball where Cana would overcommit and pick up a deserved booking.
Special mention can be made of David Meyler (sympathetic as we are to him, and sincerely as we wish him a swift and strong recovery from injury). He came on against Portsmouth, delivered an elbow to Steven Finnan and promptly marched back off the field. Minutes later Aruna Dindane would equalise for 10-man Portsmouth against a nine-man squad that had already had Lee Cattermole sent off for, unsurprisingly, two clumsy and ill-timed tackles.
Bruce needs to get it through to our players that staying on their feet a bit more – and not hacking down opponents – isn’t “compromising their game” but instead serving the team as a whole by keeping 11 men on the pitch.