AFTER a week of Martin O’Neill standing up for his players, the time has come to move on. If anything, it is overdue.
The fall-out from the 145th Tyne-Wear derby has continued all week. With important games against the two big Liverpool clubs over the next two weekends, Sunderland cannot afford to let it rumble on any longer.
If there was ever any doubt, Martin O’Neill has made one thing clear this week – he will always defend his players when he feels they have been wronged.
It is another of the qualities which brings the best out of those under his command.
Since making the post-match comments which so enraged his opposite number, Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew has decided to keep his counsel on a fractious game which saw two Black Cats players red-carded, a Magpies coach sent to the stands and both clubs charged with failing to control their players.
O’Neill’s willingness to answer questions honestly, his sense of injustice and his desire to defend his men has seen him take a different approach.
The Sunderland manager will hand down fines to Lee Cattermole and Stéphane Sessègnon but no more.
Stripping Cattermole of the captaincy never entered his mind despite the stupidity which not only saw the midfielder rule himself out of the upcoming games with a reckless first-minute challenge on Sunday, but compound it with a foul-mouthed tirade at referee Mike Dean after the final whistle.
“We will miss him,” laments O’Neill, who has been fielding questions about Cattermole’s discipline since he arrived.
“It is heat of the moment, something he will have to really learn but it had not crossed my mind to change captain. Lee has been fantastic on the pitch, he takes his role as captain very seriously and organises the other players to attend functions.
“He needs to learn from it because he is missing major games at a very important stage of the season.
“I will have to take some sort of disciplinary action. That is a shame because both players have done well and Sess has been very apologetic and was so dejected-looking.
“I was not best pleased with either of them, but with a heavy heart I have had to end up fining them.
“If it makes them stop in their tracks the punishment will work. Since I have been here, the two of them have been terrific. It was disappointing for me to go into the dressing room to see a dejected Sess and learn my captain had been sent off.
“I thought I must have missed the last five minutes of the game!
“In the heat of the moment I thought Mike Dean refereed the game very well.
“Of course he missed a few incidents in the match, perhaps he could have had a look at the end realising the tension had been building up and this was the kind of explosion and said, ‘Lee just go home, forget about it son’ or something like that, but he has chosen not to ignore what Lee said and given the red card.
“That is fine so long as the next time we see somebody full in a referee’s face in the Premier League the referee has the courage to say, ‘right son, off you go.’ I know it will come back to bite me because it could be one of my players!”
While the effect of the derby will be felt when, for the first time this season, a Sunderland team-sheet goes up without Sessègnon’s name on it (or Cattermole’s) ahead of today’s Premier League visit of Liverpool, the Wearsiders cannot dwell on the 1-1 draw.
Defender Michael Turner said: “It is nice to be able to just focus on the rest of the season, forget about the derby for another season.
“We have a tough game against Liverpool at home. We will be concentrating on that, to win that game.
“Then it is another massive game in the FA Cup at Everton. It is an old saying, but we cannot afford to think too far ahead, we have to take every game as it comes along.”
The accusations of pre-meditated Sunderland aggression angrily dismissed by O’Neill were not the Wearsiders’ only disappointment from a game which saw Newcastle do to them what, under O’Neill, they have been used to doing to other teams – scoring a decisive goal in added time.
Turner added: “To have played so well for the whole game, be in front for such a long period and then to concede so late was a massive blow for us.
“However, we have to take a huge positive from the performance and the way we dealt with the game.”