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Match analysis: Hull City 1 Sunderland 0
IN GUS Poyet’s three games in charge of Sunderland, he has seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The good came eight days ago against Newcastle United, where his squad came together as a team and played their rivals off the park. The bad was his first game, where a ragged back four capitulated at Swansea City in a 4-0 defeat.
But the ugly was saved for the KC Stadium where Sunderland put in a first-half performance against Hull City, helmed by ex-manager Steve Bruce, which was so poor, so calamitous and so unacceptable that relegation seemed to be a certainty.
The first-half stoppage-time sendings off of first Lee Cattermole and secondly Andrea Dossena, which followed a spectacular Carlos Cuellar own goal, was one of the blackest points in Sunderland’s recent history, raising real fears that Poyet’s side could be plying their trade in the Championship next season.
It was almost as farcical as Sunderland’s defeat to Charlton Athletic in the 2002-3 season, which saw three own goals conceded before half-time and left fans beating down a locked door in order to be let out of the Stadium of Light.
But there was no comedy in Saturday’s indiscretions. Poyet and the Sunderland squad were unhappy at Cattermole’s dismissal by Andre Marriner which they felt was harsh, but the Dossena challenge on former Black Cat David Meyler had a real nasty streak which perhaps should yield a greater ban than the mandatory three-match suspension.
The second half was a different matter altogether. While not fully compensating for their first-half display which also saw Keiren Westwood replaced by Vito Mannone on 43 minutes after a clash with Paul McShane, Sunderland’s nine men pulled their socks up and put in a fine counter-attacking performance, and could have levelled the game when Adam Johnson saw his effort saved by former Newcastle United goalkeeper Steve Harper.
The Tigers themselves could have had a man sent off late on when Robbie Brady charged into a challenge on Johnson, which resulted in merely a booking for the former Manchester United youngster.
That Hull could not add to their lead in the second half is testament to Sunderland’s dogged defending rather than the Tigers’ profligacy, and gave Poyet some positives, scant reward perhaps, to take away from the KC Stadium.
This week, Poyet has his work cut out for him. What to do about his two offenders, Dossena and Cattermole? It is clear that Poyet was not happy with the punishment meted out to Cattermole, but did not argue with the Dossena challenge.
When asked about the challenge by Cattermole on another Sunderland old boy Ahmed Elmohamady, Poyet said: “He didn't touch him. I thought it was a broken leg, he was down two minutes.
“He's Lee Cattermole. If Lee Cattermole is a red, the challenge on Westwood is a red, (the one on) Johnson is a red. But they're not Lee Cattermole.
“I'm not happy. I'm complaining. I'm an honest person. If I thought Lee was a red card I would tell you, same as Dossena. But it's not.
“If that's a red then when you hit someone in the face it's the same, or a scissors tackle on Adam Johnson.
“I want you, because you get paid for that, to comment on it.”
Since Bruce brought Cattermole to Wearside in 2009, Martin O’Neill, Paolo Di Canio and now Poyet have had to manage him. Aware that Cattemole possesses some real talent, his managers have been reluctant to attempt to change his ways for fear his impact on games would be diminished.
While Bruce said on Saturday he is glad that Cattermole is no longer his problem, Poyet is as reluctant as his predecessor was to curb his physicality.
“I like Lee how he is but of course it's dangerous for him because of his reputation,” said Poyet, who will consider an appeal against Cattermole’s three-match ban. “If he's suspended someone else will have a chance. “I hope to appeal but it's an analysis. I need to see the report.”
Poyet felt that if Cattermole’s challenge was a red card, McShane’s - albeit accidental - clash with Westwood should have resulted in the same punishment.
Of his goalkeeper, Poyet said: “He's dizzy. He nearly cut his head off. Was he falling on top of him or playing with his foot and hit him on the head?”
The first-half stoppage-time talking points, the injury to Westwood and the goal aside, the opening 45 minutes were largely uneventful.
Hull were the brighter side, Sunderland were wasteful in possession and it was such poor ball retention that sparked the first dismissal, when Cattermole played a sloppy short pass that Elmohamady intercepted. The familiar red mist descended on Sunderland’s former captain and he was walking towards the dressing room before Marriner had a chance to brandish the red card.
Dossena’s challenge on Meyler got worse on every replay. The Italian defender, making only his second appearance for Sunderland, went in over the ball and brought his foot down on Meyler’s shin, which brought on the Ireland international’s eventual replacement.
Sunderland were booed off by their own at half-time, which was no surprise. They made their remaining two substitutions during the interval, again, no surprise.
But the manner of their performance in the second half, in such adversity, is to be commended.
Hull City were never going to pull up trees in this fixture. Against an attacking team, Sunderland’s numerical disadvantage would have resulted in a whitewash. But Hull had their chances and Sunderland repelled every single one of them in the second half.
After two shots across the bows by Tom Huddlestone and George Boyd early on, Jake Livermore saw an effort from distance saved superbly by Mannone, shortly before Johnson, on for the ineffective Borini at the interval, fired wide at the other end.
Johnson was denied on 79 minutes when he collected a long ball and fired into Harper, before Livermore went up the other end and fired against Mannone’s post.
Another Huddlestone effort yielded another super Mannone stop, before Phil Bardsley took a gamble with a volley from 25 yards which went closer than expected.
Against the odds, Poyet was impressed with his charges in the second half.
“I take home the second half, the clean sheet nine against 11, the shape they believed in, the understanding,” said the Uruguayan. “We had chances in the game and Vito in goal who we haven't seen so far made a great couple of saves. These things made me proud.
“Unfortunately we lost so you cannot take too much but in the situation we are we need to take positives.
“I thought my welcome to the Premier League was Swansea but it started on Saturday probably because it was a challenge.
“There were many decisions to make, especially losing 1-0, losing our goalkeeper, losing two other players as well, playing a new shape for the first time in 45 minutes with a player who's been out for a while as well in Wes Brown. Plenty of things were difficult but I'm trying to be positive with the players and the second half was probably the best we've played under me.”
Was it the most difficult team talk Poyet has given at half-time?
“The toughest I've had in the Premier League without any doubt. I was delighted with the players,” said Poyet.
“I haven't had time to play nine against 11 in my three weeks at the club. I had five or seven minutes at half-time for me to explain it, then them take it on the pitch. Credit to them.
“On another day Adam Johnson scores and we're talking about something unique in football. It wasn't to be.”
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