ADAM JOHNSON says tackling has become a banned art form after Sunderland have been punished twice in as many games.
The Black Cats will be without Stephane Sessegnon and Craig Gardner for Sunday’s visit of Southampton, with the pair both suspended for the remainder of the campaign.
Sessegnon became the first Sunderland player to be dismissed in the Premier League this season when he slid into Aston Villa’s Yacouba Sylla 11 days ago, before Gardner suffered the same fate when he lunged into Stoke’s Charlie Adam on Monday night.
For an already-depleted squad, the loss of their second and third top scorers is a mighty blow.
But Johnson has some sympathy for the pair, with the increasingly restrictive guidelines for referees leaving little margin for an ill-timed tackle.
Johnson told the Echo: “It’s the letter of the law now that says you can’t tackle over the top of the ball.
“The tackle the other night (Gardner’s) was one of those which is a bit of a silly foul.
“But even if you slightly mis-time a tackle these days, or it just looks bad, then you’re going to get sent off with the reaction of everyone around.
“Tackling has totally gone out of the game really.
“The squad was already very low on numbers, with players injured and suspended.
“It’s difficult now, but everyone who is fit has got to keep together and push us over the line.”
The magnitude of Sunderland’s ability to shrug off Gardner’s red card against Stoke and fight back to secure a point was revealed 24 hours later after third-bottom Wigan succumbed to Swansea.
Victory on Sunday will now effectively guarantee the Black Cats’ survival, with Paolo Di Canio’s side boasting a far superior goal difference to the Latics, who trail Sunderland by three points.
And Johnson believes Sunderland will head into the Southampton clash full of confidence after performing so doggedly with 10 men against the Potters. “The manager said at half-time against Stoke that if we could get a point, it would be a great effort and really kick-start us for Southampton,” added the England winger.
“It has done, everyone is full of confidence, even though some people are a bit disappointed that we didn’t win it.
“Other than from set pieces, they didn’t really create anything.
“That’s what they do, they’re a big side who cause problems in the box.
“But even before their goal, and after it, we were confident and always thought that we could score.”