LEE Cattermole is expected to enjoy an immediate return to Sunderland’s first team tomorrow with manager Martin O’Neill admitting the skipper has been missed during his three-game suspension.
The Sunderland manager was unwilling to divulge his team selection ahead of Saturday’s visit to the Britannia Stadium and the game against Stoke.
But Cattermole is expected to be a shoo-in against the powerful Potters as Sunderland seek their first league victory of the season on the road.
O’Neill though says that when his captain does return to the side he hopes he has learned a lesson about the importance of discipline and the need not to let down himself or his team-mates.
“We’ve missed him in the games – the kind of leadership he brings, and the fact that he gets us going and takes us forward,” said O’Neill.
“But of course I am still irritated that he has missed these last three matches, because who is to say what the results might have been if he had been available.
“Lee has missed three games which is bad enough, but with the international break included, it means he has actually been out a month.
“It’s longer than you think. But, fitness-wise, I’m hoping that his natural enthusiasm will carry him a great distance, although there may come a time where he might tire.
“No matter what you do in training, if you have no match at the end of it then it is a long weekend.”
Cattermole’s red card against the MD Dons in last month’s Capital One Cup game was the fifth of his Sunderland career.
And it cost him appearances against his old club Wigan Athletic, the trip to Manchester City and the Wear-Tyne derby against Newcastle United last Sunday.
O’Neill has spoken to the 24-year-old about his sendings off – and points out that he is capable of keeping a cool head if he has to.
“I spoke to him about the red card at the time but I haven’t really talked to him about it since,” he said. “I would just hope that he has learned some sort of lesson.
“What I mentioned to him is that he does have the ability to be disciplined.
“If you remember the game at Newcastle last season, he got booked in virtually the first minute but he saw the rest of the game through without any trouble – and played very well, making challenges but being a bit more careful.
“His overall game was excellent, only to get himself sent off for something he said after the final whistle!
“There are some challenges which result in a red card where you can look at it and wonder ‘was that a sending-off offence?’
“But if you lunge in at somebody, you are giving the referee no alternative whatsoever – none at all.
“And it’s that kind of lunging that he will have to try and curb.”
Should Cattermole return, O’Neill will have an embarrassment of riches in terms of potential midfielders – especially with right-back Phil Bardsley fit and in contention for his first start of the season, which should free-up Craig Gardner to move back upfield.
As well as Cattermole and Gardner competing for midfield places, O’Neill also has to consider the merits of Jack Colback, David Vaughan, Seb Larsson and David Meyler.