LEE Cattermole’s “exceptional” performance against Chelsea demonstrated why he is such an important figure for Sunderland, insists Gus Poyet.
There were a string of superb displays from Sunderland’s players in today’s 0-0 draw against Chelsea, as the Black Cats became the first side this season to prevent the Premier League leaders finding the net.
But Cattermole, who will be crowned North East Football Writers’ Player of the Year tomorrow night, took the man of the match accolade after a stellar display alongside the equally impressive Seb Larsson in the middle of the park.
Sunderland boss Poyet said: “What he did, Lee, today is an example of how you need to play in the middle of the park against a top team.
“When you need to go for a tackle, when you need to cover and when you need to follow someone, when to go deep, when to go higher – even when you need to make a foul!
“He was exceptional and I am sure he is going to go home feeling that his role in the team is very important, and that was recognised today.
“He is very different from when I arrived here and it is a pleasure to see that. He is a player who has improved the most with me at Sunderland and we have a great understanding.”
Connor Wickham also received praise from Poyet, with the England Under-21 international proving to be Sunderland’s most threatening player.
“To stop the opposition from scoring, you need to be very aggressive and organised defensively, but to score a goal you need to be very aggressive on the ball,” said Poyet.
“Connor was one of those players today who thought, ‘every time I get the ball I am going to hurt Chelsea somehow’.
“He is becoming more and more important, and he is becoming a Premier League player week-in and week-out.”
If any side looked like taking all three points in the finale, it was Sunderland, with Poyet’s men enjoying the best of the half chances after the break.
But it was Sunderland’s defensive display which particularly caught Poyet’s eye as the Wearsiders became only the third side this season to take points off Chelsea.
“To have a chance to get something against a team like Chelsea, first you need to defend, and you need to defend properly,” added the Uruguayan.
“You need to make it very difficult for them and you need to defend as a team, be organised, keep your shape and throw bodies in front of the ball.
“Everthing you need to do to play football against one of the best teams.
“That is the minimum.
“In terms of commitment and discipline, this was the best for while – no doubt.
“You can prepare the team, talk tactics, training sessions, do videos – the lot – but at the end of the day it is about the players on the pitch.
“Not too many people like to defend these days, but it is pleasing that this team today went out there with the attitude that we are going to stop you from scoring for the first time this season.
“And then, be careful – we might nick the game on a break or whatever.
“That was spot-on.
“You couldn’t really see an easy chance for Chelsea. They would have needed to do something very, very special to score today.”