Martin O'Neill, the Sunderland manager, did not – thankfully – sport a T-shirt proclaiming the innocence of Lee Cattermole and Stéphane Sessègnon yesterday but there was a reluctance to condemn his players that would have resonated in a corner of Liverpool.
That is not to belittle the severity of Luis Suarez's offence. Far from it. Nor is it to undermine Mike Dean, whose officiating in the most hostile Tyne-Wear derby most could remember, has since gained widespread praise. Sessègnon was rightly dismissed in Sunday's 1-1 draw at Newcastle for raising an arm, Cattermole, the captain, for raising his voice, but the spirit engendered by O'Neill at Sunderland has been quite remarkable, and the 60-year-old is too astute and too good at his job to start risking its removal. Even the handing out of a fine, something that will be done to both men, will come with reluctance.
"Obviously I wasn't best pleased with either of them, but it's with a heavy heart I've had to end up fining them," said O'Neill. " That said, the two of them, since I've been here, have been terrific, really terrific. I could not have asked any more from my captain. It's a real, real shame. I think it was heat of the moment for Lee. I think it was something he'll have to learn, to really learn.
"It hadn't crossed my mind [to change captain]. Obviously I'll have to take some sort of disciplinary action. It's kind of a shame because it's one of those where both players have done well. Sessègnon has been very apologetic about it and was so dejected-looking in the dressing room afterwards.
"I genuinely didn't want a continuation [of the derby row] but I saw the comments afterwards by the [Newcastle] manager [Alan Pardew] and I thought, 'agenda', setting out an agenda with Lee Cattermole? Getting booked in the first 40 seconds? Agenda? That's kind of crazy. Sometimes you just leave it, but I felt this was worth reiterating and making my point."Reuse content