MARTIN O’NEILL hopes Lee Cattermole’s stint on the sidelines has been sufficiently enlightening ahead of the final game of the Sunderland skipper’s three-match ban.
The cost of Cattermole’s red card at MK Dons will be felt acutely by the 24-year-old tomorrow, as he is forced to watch the Wear-Tyne derby helplessly from the stands.
Cattermole will have been unable to play a competitive game for a month by the time he is eligible to return at Stoke City next weekend after earning the fifth red card of his Sunderland career in the Capital One Cup third round.
Sunderland boss O’Neill understands why supporters will see tomorrow’s encounter as the biggest punishment for the former Middlesbrough midfielder’s lack of discipline at MK Dons.
But he says all three games Cattermole has missed have been vital and hopes he now realises the magnitude of his actions.
O’Neill said: “I think every game is genuinely important in this league. I know there’s great emphasis on the derby game and quite rightly so. But every game for us is important.
“He’s missed three important league games – one of which we won (the 1-0 victory over Wigan) the other we got beaten in (the 3-0 loss at Manchester City) and a third one which is of enormous importance to us.
“If he can’t see the damage of missing those games, not only to what we’re trying to achieve here, but to his own career, then he’s got to be mad.”
Cattermole will have some input into Sunderland’s derby challenge tomorrow though.
The skipper will speak to his team-mates in the dressing room before kick-off and urge them to secure what would be only a third derby success on Wearside in 22 years.
“He’ll see the boys in the dressing room beforehand and he’s every bit as enthusiastic as anyone else there,” added O’Neill.
“He’s absolutely excellent in that respect, as to be fair are all the players.
“All the players come down before the game. So I wouldn’t want to single anyone out.
“But being the captain of the side, he might feel that extra responsibility.”