LEE Cattermole’s return from injury was the only positive Martin O’Neill could take from last night’s hugely underwhelming display against Bolton Wanderers.
The captain played the last quarter-of-an-hour of the FA Cup third round replay against Bolton, putting him weeks ahead of schedule for his return from a knee injury sustained in November.
And O’Neill said afterwards: “I actually thought about starting the game with Lee, but I wasn’t sure how long he would last physically.
“To have him back though is good, and I’m hoping he can be fit for us between now and the end of the season.”
Cattermole wasn’t the only one who might have started the game – top scorer Steven Fletcher was due to start until falling ill.
And it was only an extra source of frustration to the manager that with key players missing, Sunderland are always more vulnerable to producing a display like last night’s.
“Steven Fletcher was feeling a bit ill, and we sent him home, and by 4.30pm he was so unwell he couldn’t make it,” revealed O’Neill, pictured.
“I’m just hoping he’ll be all right for Saturday.
“But we should have been able to cope with that.
“We’ve had Lee Cattermole missing for seven weeks, and we have to be able cope, one how or another, with missing key players.
For the second time this season, Sunderland succumbed to Championship opposition at the Stadium of Light, producing a lacklustre performance which left O’Neill at a loss to explain why such a strong Black Cats side on the face of it should perform so poorly
“It’s obviously disappointing to be knocked out of the competition,” he said.
“I felt that in the end we were going out too meekly for my liking, and it was really disappointing following the excellence of our performance against West Ham.
“We had also produced an excellent performance against Bolton to bring them back to our place, but we wasted that on the night.
“We had chances in the first half, but we didn’t create enough in the second half.
“The penalty which saw Bolton score their first goal was obviously a key moment of the game.
“I’ve seen it back a number of times, and I think it is rather dubious.
“Jack says he’s got a touch to the ball, and it looks as though he might have done, although it is always dangerous when you go to ground.
“But we can’t blame defeat on that one moment.
“We just weren’t good enough on the night, and I find that hard to take.”