A CREAM-CRACKERED Lee Cattermole took to the stage to receive the North East Football Writers’ Player of the Year gong on Sunday night.
The after-effects of his exertions in the previous day’s draw against Chelsea had struck Cattermole like a brick wall; understandably so too after a breathless man of the match display.
Cattermole will not have been alone in looking forward to his 40 winks over the weekend.
To get anything off one of the Premier League heavyweights, Herculean efforts are needed and that takes its toll.
Facing another exhaustive marathon four days later is a major barrier for Gus Poyet’s men to overcome tonight if they are to continue their remarkable Stadium of Light run against Manchester City.
It can be done. Last season, Sunderland took a point at City before winning at Chelsea three days later, to lay the foundations of Premier League survival.
But that was such a unique month for the Black Cats that it can hardly be used as an accurate barometer for what can regularly be achieved on a purely physical level.
If Sunderland can manage to regroup, shake off the cobwebs and get anything for their efforts tonight, it will arguably be even more impressive than halting the Chelsea juggernaut.
The problem for Poyet is that he has minimal opportunity to rotate, with Emanuele Giaccherini and Billy Jones still a week or so away from being in contention.
Poyet will have little choice than to introduce Sebastian Coates in defence if there are casualties at the back, yet neither the on-loan Liverpool centre-half, nor Ricky Alvarez are match-sharp.
Liam Bridcutt, Jordi Gomez, Will Buckley and Jozy Altidore are the fresh legged quartet that Poyet has to pick from, and probably a couple will get the nod tonight.
At least City will be slightly jaded too after one less day to recuperate from their weekend’s win at Southampton - the final 20 minutes of which saw them play with 10 men.
Unlike Poyet though, Manuel Pellegrini has an embarrassment of riches in his squad to pick from.
City’s second XI is only slightly weaker than the first-choice one.
The suspension for Eliaquim Mangala, dismissed for two yellow cards at St Mary’s, is not necessarily an advantage for Sunderland either.
Mangala has been something of a liability since arriving in a £32million summer deal. The potential loss of injury doubt Vincent Kompany would have far greater repercussions.
Kompany is the glue who holds the City defence together. Without the Belgian, a Sunderland attack who have failed to find the net in the last two games will sense half-a-chance.
Tonight’s encounter will be dominated by proceedings at the other end of the pitch though, where in-form Costel Pantilimon will be more eager than most to record a third successive clean sheet after his summer exit from City.
Sunderland’s strategy will not differ dramatically from Saturday – sit deep and look to hit their loftier placed opponents on the break.
But in Sergio Aguero, City possess the master of finding the seemingly-impossible goal-scoring positions and then invariably finding the net with unrivalled precision.
After the lethargy which infected Pellegrini’s side earlier in the season, City are starting to hit their stride as a collective too.
However, the Black Cats have kept Aguero subdued before.
They have also managed to achieve what looked to be the impossible in this fixture for four successive years.
Inevitably, that will play on the minds of City’s players, yet if Sunderland can come away with anything for their efforts tonight, it will be another handsome bonus to the points tally.
Verdict: Away win