Sunderland are in deep trouble, and face a real task in getting out of the relegation mire this season. The Black Cats have had a terrible start to the new season, and with only four points recorded after ten league games, this term is officially a worse start than the 2005-06 campaign in which they were relegated from the English top flight.
Paolo Di Canio and his outlandish methods have been and gone, with Gus Poyet now in the Stadium of Light hotseat and charged with getting the Wearside outfit out of the bottom three.
One notable change in personnel in Poyet’s two games in charge has been the reintroduction of midfielder Lee Cattermole.
The 25-year-old was largely banished from the Black Cats first team under the tempestuous Italian, with a clash of personalities with Di Canio coined as the reason. In fact, Cattermole was reportedly the figurehead of player discontent at Sunderland, and the midfielder’s confrontation with his manager is thought to have been the final straw that saw Di Canio lose his job.
Poyet has brought Cattermole back into the picture, and his two performances for Sunderland since the Uruguayan’s appointment have summarised the player and his abilities perfectly.
The former Middlesbrough man was a shining light in the only Sunderland team to record a Premier League win this season, marshaling his side from his position in front of his back four against Newcastle.
Cattermole has a dogged presence in the boiler room, assured in possession and visibly lifted those around him. The likes of Jack Colback appear to look up to his talismanic team-mate, and the midfielder’s reintroduction looked like a masterstroke by Poyet.
Fast forward six days and the club’s momentum from victory in the Tyne-Wear derby is neutralised by an underwhelming 1-0 defeat to Hull. Cattermole again started the game, but was dismissed on the stroke of half-time for a reckless challenge that resulted in a straight red card.
Andrea Dossena was also dismissed, and the pair’s indiscipline debilitated a Sunderland team in desperate need of points.
Cattermole’s marching orders made it seven red cards in his Premier League career, despite him only being 25 – only Patrick Vieira, Richard Dunne and Duncan Ferguson have been sent off more (eight times each).
This unwanted record is made even worse by the fact that Cattermole has been dismissed once every 26.57 games.
Poyet has a real decision to make in terms of the role that Cattermole will play in his Sunderland side, and whether his positive attributes outweigh the negative.
On a good day, Cattermole displays leadership, determination and is able on the ball. He has the talent to play Premier League football and has passion that the fans can relate to.
Especially in a predominantly foreign squad like Sunderland’s, having a homegrown English enforcer to lead the side by example could be a really positive feature for Poyet.
However, it appears that Cattermole is incapable of staying out of trouble, and the danger that he could be dismissed is always there when he plays.
Against Newcastle, it was evident that Poyet must have explicitly told his midfielder to keep his cool and remain disciplined, as Cattermole did not engage in physical battles with opposite number Cheick Tioté.
However, a week later, he has given a glorious example of the liability he can be when selected.
Poyet’s handling of Cattermole will need to be just right if he is to help Sunderland stay in the top flight. As Di Canio found out, if the Uruguayan does not manage the enigmatic-yet-impetuous midfielder correctly, it could well lead to his demise.