Project Cattermole is off to a shakey start.
Lee Cattermole’s performance in Sunderland’s self-inflicted 1-0 defeat in East Yorkshire highlighted why the transformation new coach Gustavo Poyet is attempting will take time his club may not have.
There were positives to take home on Saturday evening, but the Black Cats had to wait until the second half for them. In the perilous Premier League position they find themselves in positives without points are... well... pointless.
Ellis Short brought Poyet in to keep Sunderland in the division. Yet the Uruguayan’s method is to impose a style far removed from what has gone before at the Stadium of Light. When he gets it right, it will be well worth watching. To do it with players not signed for that purpose and without a pre-season to effect a radical culture change is far harder. By the time things really click, the Black Cats could be the Championship’s most elegant team.
Poyet’s tiki-taka is yet to bubble to the surface, but Cattermole has entered into the spirit. After the game, Poyet denied he is trying to remodel Cattermole’s game, taking it as an opportunity to stand by his man’s at times refreshing aggression in an increasingly softly-softly game, but the Teessider let the cat out of the bag a week and a alf earlier.
“Gus has loads of new ideas,” he said then, “loads about what he wants me to do which are different from the way I’ve played throughout my career.”
Cattermole’s new trademark is the pass sprayed with the outside of the boot. It does the same job as the simple pass the ball-winning midfielder always played – out to the left-back, just in front of him – but is easier on the eye and harder to execute. When he played it on Saturday Andrea Dossena had to scamper back to keep the ball in.
At other times Cattermole’s eschewing of the easy ball was more costly.
Once picking out Ahmed Elmohamady would have been a good thing, but not now he wears the black and amber of Hull City.
There were a good few seconds before Cattermole got close enough to the Egyptian to vent his frustration but he did, lunging into a tackle. As Elmohamady writhed around, Cattermole headed for the dressing room.
On the touchline Poyet argued so fervently fourth official Paul Tierney ran to tell his boss the nasty coach was bullying him and please could he tell him to stop. Andre Marriner did, but Poyet was spared a dismissal.
Dossena was not when he stamped on David Meyler four minutes later. Two Sunderland players had been sent off in first-half added time.
Having suffered two career-threatening injuries there, Sunderland were always fiercely protective of Meyler. Poyet was honest enough to admit Dossena deserved what he got, but defended Cattermole.
“I want you, because you get paid for that, to comment on it,” he challenged the journalists.
It looked like a red card to me.
Cattermole’s lunge was an act of desperation, not aggression, but it was still out of control and threatening serious damage to Elmohamady.
Hull manager Steve Bruce has a soft spot for Cattermole, his captain at Wigan Athletic and Sunderland.
In his day, the former centre-back argued, it would have been a yellow card. He is right, but it is a change for the better.
Poyet put up the smokescreen, rightly pointing out Robbie Brady should have seen red for an 88th-minute lunge at Adam Johnsonand drawing parallels between Cattermole and Paul McShane.
Poyet did not think the defender should have been sent off for clattering into Keiren Westwood and “nearly cutting his head off” any more than Cattermole should.
The difference, he felt, was Cattermole’s reputation. Duncan Ferguson, Richard Dunne and Patrick Vieira are the only players red-carded more often in the Premier League. The unintended consequence of McShane’s wholehearted attempt to win the ball was a groggy Westwood did not know what day it was when Sunderland substituted him.
It was the second of four unfortunate events highlighting it would not be their day. The only notable action of a dire first 25 minutes came when Carlos Cuellar beat Yannick Sagbo to Liam Rosenior’s cross and headed past the goalkeeper for the third own goal Sunderland had conceded in Poyet’s three matches. That, Westwood’s removal and the red cards – rather than anything the toothless Tigers did – suggested a second-half hiding.
Tom Huddlestone, Sagbo, Boyd and Elmohamady all had shots in the first ten minutes. On his Premier League debut for Sunderland, Vito Mannone – one of five players facing their old team – saved well from Robert Koren and Huddlestone.
Yet their 3-4-1 formation, with Wes Brown introduced at half-time, made Sunderland hard to break down without emasculating them.
Almost all Hull’s shots came from outside the area but the Wearsiders were dangerous on the counter-attack.
Sebastian Larsson hit the side-netting from a free-kick and volleyed Fletcher’s knock-down wide. Phil Bardsley was angry at volleying off target.
The best chance fell to Johnson, direct from a Mannone punt. After Steve Harper spread himself to save, Jake Livermore went down the other end and hit the post.
“You wish you had Steve Bruce,” Hull’s fans taunted. The songs from the away end had already made clear that was not so.
Given time, Poyet will produce a much better team than Bruce did.
As Bruce knows only too well, patience is one of the few luxuries Short does not have in abundance.