Martin O'Neill was yesterday counting the cost of Sunday's explosive Tyne-Wear derby, in which two of his players were sent off. Of prime concern is the four-game ban handed to his captain, Lee Cattermole.
Cattermole was booked in the first minute of Sunderland's draw at Newcastle, his 10th yellow card of the season, and then received a straight red card from Mike Dean for foul and abusive language as the teams left the field.
The combination has resulted in a four-game ban that will leave O'Neill without his captain, whose form has been outstanding since the new manager took over at the Stadium of Light, for three league games and the FA Cup quarter-final at Everton a week on Saturday.
To compound the problem, Stéphane Sessègnon, another player who has hit a rich seam of form under O'Neill, was also handed a three-game ban for his needless dismissal at St James' Park. Sessègnon lashed out with his arm to strike Cheick Tioté and his absence will hasten Fraizer Campbell's gradual return from injury.
"It's bad news and we will miss them both," said the Sunderland defender Michael Turner. "They are key players in our team so someone will have to come in and fill their boots."
The FA meanwhile has confirmed that no one will face any charges for their behaviour during the game. Newcastle's goalkeeping coach Andy Woodman was sent to the stands at half-time for arguing with Jim Henry, the Sunderland fitness coach and both dugouts squared up to each other twice. It was also alleged that Newcastle staff had approached referee Mike Dean at half-time, something the club angrily denied.