Gustavo Poyet was as proud of his nine Sunderland players as he was angry with the referee after an extraordinary game at Hull City.
There was hardly any goalmouth action in the first 45 minutes at the KC Stadium, but still it produced an own goal, an injured goalkeeper and two Black Cats players sent off in added time. With all that going against Sunderland, a heavy defeat looked on the cards. But although Hull City struck the post and forced two good Vito Mannone saves, Adam Johnson had the best chance of a goalless second period.
That, and what he saw as the injustice of Lee Cattermole’s red card, were Poyet’s focus after the game.
“I take home the second half, the clean sheet nine against 11, the shape they believed in, the understanding,” he said. “We had chances 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 (his first game, a 4-0 defeat) 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.
“The second half was probably the best we’ve played under me.”
Goalkeeper Keiren Westwood tried to play on after three minutes of treatment when his bravery in diving at the feet of Paul McShane left him dazed and dizzy. It was an accidental collision, and McShane was not booked.
But Poyet felt it was no worse than the challenge which saw Cattermole dismissed for the eighth time in his career, minutes before Andrea Dossena was sent off for stamping on David Meyler.
Cattermole lunged at Ahmed Elmohamady and was shown a straight red card. Poyet will consider an appeal but the law is on referee Andre Marriner’s side. Poyet’s argument the midfielder made no contact was irrelevant.
“I’m not happy,” Poyet said. “I’m an honest person. If I thought Lee was a red card I would tell you, same as Dossena. But it’s not. He didn’t touch him. I thought it was a broken leg, he (Elmohamady) was down two minutes.
“If that’s a red then when you hit someone in the face it’s the same, or a scissors tackle on Adam Johnson (as Robbie Brady did with two minutes remaining deserves the same punishment).
“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 like Lee how he is but it’s dangerous for him because of his reputation.”
Sebastian Larsson backed up his coach’s view of the red cards.
“For the first one I think it’s clear to see that he made a mistake,” said the Swede. “I haven’t seen the Dossena challenge again but from what I’ve heard it was the right decision.”
Of Westwood, who suffered the collision after 35 minutes, Poyet said: “He’s dizzy. He (McShane) nearly cut his head off.”
Sunderland’s coach told the Sunday newspapers Marriner was right not to send McShane off, but he seemed less understanding by the time he addressed the daily journalists, asking rhetorically: “Was he falling on top of him or playing with his foot and hit him on the head?”
Meanwhile, Connor Wickham marked his second Sheffield Wednesday debut with a goal in their 5-2 win over Reading.
The England Under-21 striker has joined the Owls for a second loan spell until January 1.