SUNDERLAND players have come in for a lot of flak in the last few days and they can’t say that much of it wasn’t deserved.
But one player who was above reproach at the weekend was Lee Cattermole – who I thought was Sunderland’s man-of-the-match by some distance.
What we saw, was Cattermole at his best.
It wasn’t a perfect performance, but he never stopped wanting the ball, never stopped making himself available and never stopped trying to make things happen.
He couldn’t have shown more desire or commitment to the cause and that made a massive impact on the fans.
At the end of the game with the supporters desperately unhappy, Cattermole’s was the only name they chanted.
Now we need to see that every week from the skipper.
I’ve always said that Sunderland are a better team with Cattermole in it.
Now is his chance to make himself the heartbeat of his side. He has just signed an extended contract which will see him start running into his peak years on Wearside and he has to seize this opportunity.
I’ve watched him since he joined with a combination of admiration and frustration – admiring the passion with which he plays the game and being frustrated by the poor tackles, the needless sendings off.
What is clear to me is that he is better when he gets a run of games and settles into a rhythm.
I also see leadership qualities potentially similar to those of Kevin Ball. He leads by example and his team-mates respect him.
Bally was one of the finest captains Sunderland have ever had, despite being far from the most skilful player ever to pull on the red and white shirt.
Bally – a bit like Peter Reid when he was playing – was more than the sum of his parts: he got the best out of himself and out of those team-mates around him.
Lee Cattermole has the potential to do that. It’s not a bad target to aim for and on Saturday, maybe the current skipper took the first steps towards that goal.
Now he needs a run of games and to avoid suspensions. A player is no use at all to his team when he is sitting in the stands.
Players need to dig deep
WHAT Sunderland players have to do now is some soul searching.
Players have to start taking responsibility in games. That’s what it comes down to.
Players need to get their own game right and not rely on others to kick-start things into life.
Too many players it seems to me are just waiting and hoping things will happen.
And if there’s one thing that’s certain in football, it’s that if players wait and hope for things to happen, well, things do happen – but not generally things they want!
You see it in Sunderland games now.
If you could freeze-frame the action at key moments in the match, you would see a Sunderland player in possession and none of his team-mates on the balls of his feet making a run or calling for the pass.
There’s too much watching and waiting. Too many players letting the man in possession trying to make things happen rather than trying to help do that themselves.
When things aren’t going for you, it becomes a mental battle and this is where you need to show character if you’re going to turn it around.
It’s tough for Sunderland players right now.
They have my sympathy because a losing dressing room with a struggling team is a horrible place to be.
But only they can change that and do that they need to look inside themselves, dig deep and show they’re made of the right stuff.