Chris Young big-match verdict: Sunderland’s derby momentum disappears

Sunderland's Seb Larsson goes for the ball with Jake Livermore.
Sunderland's Seb Larsson goes for the ball with Jake Livermore.
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MORE THAN a month before the transfer window slammed shut, Paolo Di Canio publicly revealed his eagerness for an English playmaker.

It didn’t require a super-sleuth to deduce that Di Canio wanted Tom Huddlestone; a player Sunderland had made an enquiry for earlier in the summer.

At that stage, Steve Bruce expected Sunderland to win the race for Huddlestone.

The former Black Cats boss realised Hull were very much the outsiders for the then Spurs midfielder.

But the key component of Di Canio’s jigsaw headed to the KC Stadium unchallenged.

It was the first sign of tension between Di Canio and new director of football Roberto De Fanti and there were subtle swipes at his fellow Italian before the axe fell.

How Sunderland could have done with someone in the mould of Huddlestone or fellow central midfielder Jake Livermore on Saturday, after a directionless display before they pressed the self-destruct button in first-half stoppage time.

Those splashes of quality have made the difference for Bruce in the formative stages of the campaign and a tally of 14 points from 10 games is a more than healthy one for the newly-promoted Tigers.

De Fanti’s spending spree is yet to display those signs of match-winning pedigree.

Perhaps there was a case for Ki Sung-Yeung and Emanuele Giaccherini to be thrust back into the starting XI after the battle of the derby.

But it continues to be telling that Gus Poyet – and Kevin Ball before him – have immediately turned to the tried and tested, rather than the summer buys.

Huddlestone surrendered possession cheaply a couple of times in the opening skirmishes, but, as Hull realised the bounce from Wear-Tyne derby success was powder-puff, the 26-year-old took the mantle of conductor.

There was nothing spectacular, but Huddlestone ensured Hull were able to produce that oh-so-elusive art of keeping possession, particularly after Carlos Cuellar glanced the ball into his own net. It was part of the reason why Lee Cattermole grew more and more irritated.

Sunderland could not keep the ball.

An own goal, a change of goalkeeper and a brace of staggeringly mindless quickfire red cards diverted attention from the standard of the first-half display.

But it shouldn’t do. If a step was taken from beating Newcastle, it was a backward one.

The battle, pressing and hunger from the derby was gone.

It was replaced by static approach play, shoddy giveaways and an impotent threat in the final third.

Without any pressure on him, Huddlestone was able to stroll around and control the tempo.

An injury-hit Hull, who lost key figure Sone Aluko in the warm-up, were attractive opponents for Sunderland after playing 120 minutes at Spurs in midweek.

But through simply being solid and keeping their shape, it proved sufficient to inflict a defeat on Sunderland that again makes the spectre of relegation loom large.

The goal was desperately soft. John O’Shea conceding a throw-in when none of his team-mates saw fit to give him a shout, before Cuellar managed to steer the ball perfectly beyond Keiren Westwood.

But any hopes of making amends for that first half boiled down to four mindless minutes of stoppage time.

Rather than boosting his ranks with Huddlestone, Di Canio was forced to hand an olive branch to Cattermole just weeks before he was dismissed, in a bid to introduce that British tenacity into his midfield.

A sixth red card in red and white did nothing to banish the preconceived perception of Cattermole that dominates outside of Wearside.

When he plays, Cattermole is a hugely influential figure for Sunderland and is the driving force for the side.

But the former skipper’s handicap revolves around two issues – injuries and indiscipline.

Cattermole had been warned by referee Andre Marriner moments before his red card to calm down, as the frustration over Sunderland’s performance threatened to override the Teessider.

It fell on deaf ears.

When Cattermole surrendered possession – not for the first time – with a cheap pass, the blood boiled over and he lunged at full pelt into former team-mate Ahmed Elmohamady.

No, there wasn’t a huge amount of contact – if at all – and the tackle was at least on a par with Robbie Brady’s airborne launch into Adam Johnson in the dying minutes that only received a yellow from Marriner.

But was there excessive force in the tackle? Yes.

Was he in control of the tackle? No.

Cattermole didn’t even need to see Marriner reaching for his pocket before he began his march down the tunnel.

Dossena’s wincing “challenge” on David Meyler four minutes later was even more mindless.

The Italian should almost have been as ashamed for having the audacity to argue with Marriner, than he should have for the studs-up stamp itself.

To their credit, Sunderland had the character to get up off the mat and prevent Hull having an easy ride after the break.

Poyet’s side were arguably more solid and more of a goal threat with nine men, than they had been with 11.

Sunderland were resilient defensively, limited an unimaginative Hull to banging crosses into the area and sensed the jitters in the home back line.

It admittedly took a handful of smart saves from Sunderland Premier League debutant Vito Mannone – on for the injured Westwood – to deny the Tigers a second, but the Wearsiders should have snatched a point when Johnson latched onto the Italian’s punt upfield.

That was too much to hope for though.

Any momentum gleaned from the derby was immediately halted, with a buoyant and oversubscribed away end rewarded with another kick in the unmentionables.

Sunderland’s survival bandwagon needs a jump-start again.

Twitter @youngsunecho