For 50 minutes at the KC Stadium, Lee Cattermole showed why he is indispensable to Sunderland, only to then demonstrate why Gustavo Poyet’s revolution could leave him behind.
For a long time the all-action midfielder was at the heart of all that was good about the Black Cats, yet ultimately he was the fall-guy of their third defeat of a remarkable season of cup football.
“Often, the one who wants to give you everything and is involved in everything is the one that makes the mistake,” Poyet reasoned. “That’s the bad side of football.”
There are not many English football grounds where the trip from car park to ground takes you past a paddling pool and a park housing emus.
Yesterday East Yorkshire enjoyed the kind of afternoon which, if the local ice cream van had only turned up, would have kept Mrs Whippy in shoes and handbags for a year.
Sunderland’s bus was greeted by a brass band as the players arrived. Considering Wembley was at stake, it was all remarkably genteel.
Cattermole soon saw to that. The Black Cats’ team sheet might have smacked of FA Cup apathy but Cattermole had desire to spare, and with good reason.
The Teessider is supposed to be on borrowed time.
Liam Bridcutt’s arrival was meant to signal the end of Cattermole’s Cats career.
When a deadline-day move to Stoke fell through, it looked like he would get one last hurrah in the League Cup final Bridcutt was cup-tied for, then be bundled into storage.
But Cattermole’s Wembley performance earned him another game, while the likes of Wes Brown, Marcos Alonso, Vito Mannone and Ki Sung-Yeung took a day off. Bridcutt, Poyet’s golden child, watched from the bench.
The rivals for the most important role in Poyet’s grand plan are hardly identikit. Bridcutt is a 21st Century string-puller, Cattermole the old-school midfielder, hitching his shorts almost up to his armpits then haring around like a madman. There was more to his game yesterday than blood and thunder, though, the odd raking pass reminding his coach he can do a bit with the ball at his feet too. Playing in front of Santiago Vergini, the kind of centre-back who thinks he is too good to be a defender, he was happy to drop in when the Argentinian went for a wander. During one first-half breakaway, he even charged into the Hull area.
Having signed him for Wigan Athletic and Sunderland – handing him the captain’s armband both times – Steve Bruce knows Cattermole well. His Tigers were determined to play on the weakness that caused him so many headaches.
“If you’re relying on him you’re in trouble,” Roy Keane said in the sort of scathing comment that has become his trademark since giving up savaging footballers on the pitch to do it from the television studio.
Cattermole was sent off the last time he was at the KC and in spite of – maybe because of – how well he played, a repeat looked on the cards.
After 12 minutes he collided with Ahmed Elmohamady, the man he scythed down in November. Sunderland were unhappy with their former player’s reaction then, and Cattermole was no more enamoured yesterday. Craig Pawson waved play on but Cattermole’s angry reaction, running over to tell the Egyptian what he thought of his theatrics, which earned him a talking to from the referee.
The howls from the Hull fans were repeated every time Cattermole went for the ball.
Three minutes later Tom Huddlestone’s boot went in high on Cattermole, earning himself a booking.
Cattermole kept his composure but Ignacio Scocco lost his when the midfielder’s sweeping ball created a move which ended at his feet. Phil Bardsley’s cross was just behind the striker, and steered off target. His was not a performance demanding an encore. Instead it was cut short.
Rightly praised for his measured reaction to Alan Pardew eight days earlier, David Meyler leapt up from his roll to demand a Cattermole booking after a 30th-minute tackle. Pawson, an inexperienced top-level referee, at first looked unconvinced but after much deliberation – and who knows, maybe a word in his miked-up ear – was won over. Cattermole sarcastically applauded Meyler.
That apart, he was resisting the temptation to do something stupid, but as the game got feistier, thanks to a first-half penalty Oscar Ustari saved, the nagging thought remained that he was one mistimed tackle away from a sending-off.
Tantalisingly, he was last out of the tunnel for the second half, but Poyet trusted him to continue.
When Huddlestone blasted a shot at Cattermole’s head it rocked him on his heels, but he refused to hit the canvas.
The trouble with Cattermole is when on top of his game, swirling around like a hurricane, he too often blows himself out. It was true at Wembley and at Hull.
The raking balls started to find the touchline rather than the team-mate as the mistakes crept in. John O’Shea’s rashness nudged the door ajar for Hull, Cattermole’s weariness pushed it wide open. O’Shea committed a needless foul near the corner flag then was outjumped by Curtis Davies. The Tigers pounced.
As they broke from a Black Cats corner, Cattermole made an ungainly attempt to control the bouncing ball. Meyler won it, and once past his man, there was no catching him.
The fight briefly drained from Cattermole’s legs. When Sunderland lost possession again minutes later – a depressing feature of their day – Jack Colback filled in while his team-mate more or less caught his breath.
The tiredness had reached Cattermole’s brain when, two minutes later, his backpass could scarcely have been better for Matty Fryatt to score Hull’s third goal in nine minutes.
Like his fellow former Sunderland manager in the technical area, Keane had been vindicated.