Candid Max Power opens up on that red, the toughest days of his career and why he can fight back in a Sunderland shirt
In so many ways, Max Power has been the embodiment of a transformed Sunderland squad.
He has settled in the city, given matchday lifts to fans and engaged with the community whenever possible.
Allied to some impressive early performances on the pitch, and you have all the makings of a fan favourite.
He still has every chance of becoming exactly that.
The 25-year-old endured a brutal few days as he faced up to the prospect of another five games on the sidelines, and the Barnsley game was one of the toughest of his career.
The athleticism of Daniel Stendel’s side would pose a challenge for any midfielder, never mind one trying to piece his game back together.
But Power came through, a composed performance that showed exactly why Jack Ross has so much faith in him and the contribution he can make this season.
For Power, there was a mixture of relief, delight and vindication.
“It was probably the toughest few days of my career to date, a roller-coaster of emotions as you can imagine,” Power said.
“It was disappointing for that to happen again and I was in shock more than anything.
“When the ball broke loose on Saturday in a split second I actually thought, ‘Stay on your feet,’ which I did. Their lad went in at some velocity and in real time it looked worse than it was but luckily we had footage from different angles to show I didn’t make contact with my foot, it was my trailing leg which caught him on his thigh.
“I was disappointed with the Walsall players’ reactions but I understand it. They’ll feel they have a better chance of winning the game against ten men. I know it goes on and I think that maybe swayed the ref but I’ve got no grudges against the ref, we all make mistakes.
“I’m just delighted I had a bit of justice because it’s been a tough few days mentally. I took a lot of criticism and it’s been tough.
“On Tuesday I didn’t quite feel at my best,” he added.
“It was a bit of a weird feeling going into the game. I didn’t really feel I could play as I wanted to, it was just a case of trying to get through the game, that’s the stage I’m at at the moment.
“There were a lot of tackles I probably could have gone into and I tired quite quickly because I haven’t played much first-team football of late and the last few days have drained me. I was delighted to get through the game.”
Power is determined to reboot his Sunderland career and Tuesday night was an encouraging first step.
“I’m not going to hide anything, the last few days have been really tough,” he said.
“The thought of being suspended again, until after Christmas, and the mental side of it was tough.
“I didn’t really feel myself against Barnsley. It was a weird feeling knowing you don’t really want to go into a tackle. That’s just me trying to build bridges at the moment. There were a few loose balls knocking around and there were times I could have gone into a tackle but in my mind I had to not be as committed as usual. Hopefully in the course of the next few weeks that can come back.
“That was possibly the toughest game of my career to get through in terms of everything. I spoke to a referee I know on Sunday evening who said he’d be very surprised if the appeal was successful so as you’d imagine I didn’t sleep very well on Sunday night.
“As much criticism as I’ve taken, I‘d like to say thanks to a lot of the fans who’ve stood by me as well. You get good and bad in football and I can deal with that – I’m a big boy, thick-skinned. It was just the thought of missing a lot more football and knowing I’m not that type of player.
“The Bradford one was an act of silliness and not really in my character. The tackle against Oxford could possibly have been a yellow card but on Saturday I knew I hadn’t really made contact, the lad writhed around and the ref was surrounded by players.
“Some people probably still think it was a red, that’s football, everyone’s got an opinion.,” he added.
“I’m just delighted it’s been overturned.
“The referee made a mistake, everyone makes mistakes. I couldn’t stand here and be a hypocrite because I made a huge mistake at Bradford - we’re all human. Hopefully Tuesday was the start of rebuilding trust with the fans. The manager and the players have been great with me and I’ve really enjoyed my time here except for the red cards.
“I love it here, it’s a fantastic club and the support stuck by us against Barnsley even when it went to 3-2 and we were backs against the wall. They really helped us get through the game.
“When you’ve got players like Geads [Aiden McGeady] – arguably the best player in the division – on the pitch and you see his quality at the end to lay on a ball for Luke, who’s been great since he’s been here and works tirelessly, it shows the strength in the squad.
“Tuesday was a bit of a weird game for me because I didn’t feel I could put my full stamp on the game and Barnsley were the best side we’ve come up against this season, a really athletic side.
“If you look at our performance it was probably a bit of a tired one because the lads had to play 70 minutes on Saturday down to ten men thanks to me again.
“I’m just delighted to get through 90 minutes. I don’t want my career here to fail, so I’m trying to kick-start it.”
Ross admitted that Power had not been himself on Monday as the club waited for the decision.
“I think anyone who knows me knows how bubbly I am around the training ground and on Monday I barely said a word to anyone,” he said.
“It was tough. I had to train not knowing what was going to happen but I’m just happy I managed to get the decision in my favour this time.
“The manager really backed me, which is something I’m really grateful for. The players have stuck with me.
“I get the criticism from the fans. If you’re sat at home on Saturday watching the telly and it pops up that I’ve been sent off, I know everyone’s going to jump to conclusions. I’m a committed player. Do I have to curb the way I play? Hopefully not.
“Someone asked me whether the pressure of playing for such a big club has got to me and I’d say no,” he added.
“After Saturday you’re starting to think something’s gone wrong here, Have I upset someone? I don’t know. It was a really tough few days.
“I’ve bought into the club, I live in the area. As you can imagine, doing the school run has been tough at times but that’s a decision I’ve made.
“First and foremost I’m a parent with two young kids who come first in everything.
“Monday and Tuesday I didn’t take them to school and that wasn’t a nice feeling knowing I’ve had to, not hide from problems, but lock myself away. I was really hit by the decision. It would have been tough to deal with if I hadn’t won the appeal.
“On Tuesday I didn’t feel like I could put my stamp on the game but the manager put me in and I probably needed to get over a mental hurdle. I got through 90 minutes and hopefully now I can kick-start my career.”
The faith from his manager is absolute and something that he has not taken for granted.
“As a player that is really important,” he said.
“I’ve played under other managers who probably wouldn’t have dealt with it as this manager has. To know I’ve had the support of the manager, Potts and Fowls, the lads have rallied around as well. It was a strange few days in terms of the emotions.
“When the Barnsley game started I felt mentally drained. It didn’t help that they were a good side and we had a bit of a change of formation in the first half as well. That formation showed how devastating we can be but when we get pinned back it can be quite tough.
“Getting through the game was the biggest thing for me and I look forward to Walsall at the weekend now so I can build up some match fitness and get back to the performances I showed early in my Sunderland career.”
Power will hope that Tuesday marked the start of a new chapter in his Sunderland career, the start of a prolonged run of games where he can build on the excellent form shown earlier in the season.
Sunderland will hope that it was a watershed moment in their season, too.
Barnsley made them suffer for periods in the game but Power says the win was fully deserved.
“Arguably we could have probably been 5-0 up,” he said.
“If we’d got in at half-time 3-0 up it puts a different perspective on it but for them to get a goal gives them a little bit of a lift. Barnsley are a good side, especially in this division. They’ve got some real good players - Kieffer Moore, I can see him playing higher, Brad Potts – and it was tough.
“Josh Maja’s a real talent. Arguably he misses the easier chances at times but I didn’t even feel like his goal was a chance at the time but he works it back onto his left foot and his finishing is as good as I’ve seen. He’s got a real good future ahead of him.
“I’d like to think we are building something, we’ve got lads who are good ages with senior lads, it’s a real good blend. Tuesday was a big win.
“Barnsley may feel a bit aggrieved but I think they’ll know as well, in that 30-minute period the game could have been over.”