Phil Smith's verdict: Max Power deserves chance to rescue complicated season and why THAT comeback is so encouraging
For the trip to Morecambe in the Checkatrade Trophy, Max Power was handed the captain's armband.
At face value it was an obvious choice, Power the senior player in a youthful side.
In reality it was a show of trust from Jack Ross, after Power had put his team in danger with a petulant kick the last time he had the honour at Valley Parade.
Power responded with the kind of controlled, mature display that so quickly endeared to him to the Sunderland support. after his revival.
Against Wycombe Wanderers he stepped up his level again and had he not started against Walsall, Ross would have found himself under fire from the vast majority of the red & white army.
The facts do not look good for the 25-year-old.
It was Sunderland’s fourth red card of the season, three of them to Power.
At Bradford they held on for the win but on every other occasion it has cost them valuable points.
Should his ban not be rescinded, then by the time of his return he will have missed 15 games in all competitions. For a vital player and a marquee signing this summer, it is a woeful record.
Criticism has been unsurprising but the picture is complicated.
Debate has raged over the red shown at Walsall.
Power was late to the challenge but did seem to try and plant his foot in an effort to withdraw. His velocity was more than matched by Liam Kinsella.
For both managers to agree that a decision was wrong is rare, but that’s how it was with Ross and Dean Keates.
There was even a consolatory pat from a Walsall player as Power left the field.
Ross may well be protecting his player to an extent but it is worth stressing that there was nothing stage managed about his indignation. The Black Cats boss is generally a master of cooling his emotions before speaking post-match but on this occasion he had no intention of doing so.
The red at Bradford was poor, while the one against Oxford was also contentious.
Remarkably, Power had never been sent off before moving to Sunderland. That was a record that stood over 200 games and two promotion campaigns in this division.
So the perception of Power as a liability or a player that can’t be trusted is unfair.
He certainly relishes the combative side of the game and while the reds may have been harsh, the pace of contact in those challenges against Oxford and Walsall made you wince in real time.
It is worth noting that for all the criticism pointed his way in recent weeks, the poise, composure and control of Dylan McGeouch was a key part of Sunderland’s winning run and it was missed in this fiery affair on Saturday.
Power's career so far, and the debate over two of the decisions, suggest that this could well prove to an aberration.
He is a player going through an extraordinarily testing time and it will take serious resolve and mental strength to fight through it.
He deserves another chance, however, and he will almost certainly get it.
His physicality, leadership and quality in moving the ball forward are absolutely essential.
Ross knows it and his defence of his player is partly due to his anger at the decision, and partly due to a genuine belief that he can trusted to be a key figure in the side.
It is up to Power to do that when he returns, and hopefully that will be soon after this red is overturned (though you have to say, that seems unlikely given the tackle against Oxford was deemed to be serious foul play even on review).
It is certainly true that Sunderland can’t afford to keep up this red card habit.
Too many points have been dropped this season from games where they should have had greater control and this was one.
For the first 20 minutes they were in complete control, dominant and carving Walsall open.
It was another afternoon where Portsmouth steadily extended their grip on League One.
Yet in so many ways this felt more euphoric, more defiant and more encouraging that some of Sunderland’s wins this season.
Their response to going 2-0 showed the difference in mentality this season and it was heartening to see the likes of Adam Matthews and Aiden McGeady take their game to another level, their quality matched only by their determination.
Walsall were in complete control but under the pressure of the vocal Sunderland support, their decision making collapsed and that growing sense of inevitability about an equaliser is the kind of feeling that accompanies any promotion campaign.
Then there were those delirious scenes as Lynden Gooch fired home.
Players, staff and supporters in unison.
That kind of togetherness is priceless.
If Sunderland are to achieve promotion this season, that will be marked out as an absolutely pivotal moment.