FOR the third game in a row, interim Sunderland head coach Kevin Ball was proud of his players.
But it was a pride tinged with regret as Paolo Di Canio’s would-be successor saw his side take an early lead, against Manchester United only to succumb to two second-half goals from Premier League starting debutant Adnan Januzaj.
“I’m a little disappointed that, having got ourselves into a good position, we couldn’t go on to get something out of the game,” Ball explained.
“We had played well, scored one goal, could easily have had another and, at half-time, I was very happy and let the players know how well I thought they had played.
“We knew it was going to be difficult for us in the second half, because we knew we were going to have to dig deep.
“But then we conceded two goals soon after the break and, having looked back at them, we felt they could both have been prevented with a bit better communication.”
Ball was delighted with his side’s work-rate, desire and skill and could only bemoan Sunderland’s inability to make all that hard work count.
“We never gave up and even at the end of the game we were still hoping for that rousing finish, though it wasn’t to be,” he sighed.
“You’re looking at fine margins letting us down.
“We need to get more of those half-chances going for us at one end and fewer going against us at the other.”
Among the many good things to pull out of the game from a Sunderland perspective, though, was the form of Lee Cattermole.
The ex-skipper’s first-team rehabilitation continued against United – he was excellent as a defensive midfielder and driving force for the team.
And Ball admits that a player of the Teessider’s ability and influence will be vital to Sunderland in the coming months.
“From Lee’s point of view, the last three games have given him a catalyst to kick on from,” said Ball.
“The more games he gets, the better he’ll be and that will stand the club in good stead.
“I’ve seen a lot of players fully committed to the cause, as they should be, but Lee typifies what you want every player to be like in terms of desire and mentality.”