IT was fitting that Sunderland midfielder Lee Cattermole collected his North-East Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year award just 24 hours after arguably his finest performance of the season so far.
Just imagine the embarrassment for all concerned if the combative midfielder had picked up the gong on the back of yet another dismissal.
But there was little danger of that against league leaders Chelsea on Saturday night as he gradually dominated proceedings against supposedly far more esteemed company.
Cattermole’s transformation over the last year mirrors that of his side since the arrival of manager Gus Poyet.
Aside from the pitiful 8-0 surrender at Southampton, Poyet’s organised troops are proving difficult to break down and are six points better off than at the same stage 12 months ago.
Who is to say that Saturday’s tactics of defending deep cannot frustrate even more big guns on Wednesday night when Manchester City arrive at the Stadium of Light for their annual 1-0 defeat?
THE problem with loading too much praise on anyone’s shoulders is that they inevitably fail to live up to the billing.
Cattermole has been hailed a reformed character in the past before promptly earning another “harsh” red card.
It is also little over a week ago that Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew was lauding the new and improved Moussa Sissoko for adding drive and goals to his game.
You can now include bite in the mix after his clueless early bath in Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at West Ham.
With Jack Colback also serving a one-match ban following his fifth booking of the season, Pardew’s midfield options are pretty bare for Tuesday’s trip to in-form Burnley.
To my mind, the fixture has similarities to the night a depleted United lost 2-1 at Scunthorpe United during the 2009-10 promotion season.
What price on out-of-favour Vurnon Anita emulating the hapless Geremi by sending the ball out of the compact Turf Moor ground and into orbit?
ORBIT is something that Hartlepool United’s season is never going to reach.
Just finishing 22nd in League Two and avoiding relegation from the Football League would be ranked a success come next May.
For that to happen, they need to first beat non-league neighbours Blyth Spartans in this Friday’s FA Cup second-round match.
Victory, no matter how it arrives, and a plum third-round draw may just trigger some momentum across the busy Christmas period.
Defeat in front of a live television audience, however, would more than likely extinguish whatever fragile confidence still remains within manager Paul Murray’s squad.
Seasoned Pools followers will tell you that the club have survived bigger threats to their Football League status than the current six-point gap to safety.
And they wouldn’t only be talking about on-the-field problems either.
We could just do without the current hole getting any bigger.
MIDDLESBROUGH were effectively joint top of the Championship as visitors Blackburn Rovers piled forth for a 95th-minute corner.
One untidy equaliser later and Aitor Karanka’s side were elbowed down to fifth place following their third successive draw.
As disappointing as a tally of three points from nine may seem, Boro are still proving a difficult side to beat and are just a point from automatic promotion as we enter December.
My guess is that the majority of the Riverside faithful would have settled for such frustration back in August.