Gus Poyet admitted Lee Cattermole was left out of Sunderland's heavy defeat at Arsenal partly because Andre Marriner was officiating the game and he feared the midfielder might be sent off by him again.
An angry Poyet warned his team he was ready to rip up his teamsheet for Sunday’s Capital One Cup final after seeing them deliver an insipid display to lose 4-1 to Arsenal.
He said the only guaranteed starter would be Cattermole, who was left out of the squad altogether for the Emirates trip.
That was to preserve him for the Wembley date, Poyet hinting Marriner’s presence as referee was a factor in his thinking.
Marriner has sent Cattermole off twice, most recently at Hull in November in an incident Poyet said at the time he did not think merited a red card. Sunderland have history with Marriner – the referee having come under fierce criticism from manager Steve Bruce in 2009 for a poor decision to send off Michael Turner.
As well as showing a red to Cattermole, he sent off Andrea Dossena – deservedly – at Hull and David Vaughan at White Hart Lane on the last day of last season. He said: “Unfortunately for me, it was the only decision I could control.
“I don’t want to say something to get me fined but for me the referee was one who normally sends Lee Cattermole off.
“Add the fact we were away to Arsenal I am sure if we were to go two or three goals down Lee is not the sort of player to have in the middle.
“I made a mistake in the press conference – if there is one player starting next week it is Lee Cattermole. The rest at the moment are substitutes.
“I say sorry to the players who started on the bench on Saturday.
“You want me to play, but give me a chance. Don’t just throw me out there against Arsenal.”
While Liam Bridcutt argued Sunderland’s focus was not skewed by the League Cup final this week, Poyet re-asserted his belief staying in the top flight was more important than Wembley glory.
He added:“It is, but don’t tell the people in Sunderland.
“I thought it was just down to the manager to stay in the Premier League – apparently it is more important for a manager to win a cup in Sunderland because it makes you more famous. I am learning.”
Poyet expressed his hope the Arsenal defeat would help Sunderland’s preparation for the Wembley game.
He said: “I tell you what – if it does not help us we are going to be in trouble. Badly.
“It was the perfect game to play before the final. Sometimes you come here and you play well and you think, okay, we can go to Wembley confident – it’s easy. No.
“Sometimes a good kick in the backside at the right time is good to wake you up but until the game next week I cannot tell you which one it is. It is true it changed plenty of things in my mind.”
Poyet had suggested in the run-up to the game his team had never trained better, although that jarred with the performance – which was as poor as anything served up under him.
He added: “If I knew (why we had no spark) I would tell you.
“ I thought the team was ready – to do well in this game and in the final but we didn’t.
“I don’t want to blame ourselves only – I want to give credit to Arsenal as well., but at the end of the day I need to be honest as well and we did badly.
“We did not start well and it was not a good day for the team I want to use against the top teams.
“Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday is the best I have seen them in training.
“They were pushing for those starting positions on the pitch.
“Maybe we did something bad on Thursday and Friday!”