Sutton suffering thanks to past sins

Celtic's £6m striker faces tough task to turn round his tarnished reputation
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The Independent Online

Chris Sutton has long been his own worst enemy, but now he may be counting the cost of his past crimes with his new status as Scottish football's public enemy No 1.

Chris Sutton has long been his own worst enemy, but now he may be counting the cost of his past crimes with his new status as Scottish football's public enemy No 1.

Sutton's self-inflicted sending-off for Chelsea in the Champions' League a year ago was evidence enough of a man who seemed to be looking for an argument. But, at Parkhead on Saturday, Sutton was the victim of a football injustice.

Martin O'Neill watched in disbelief as his £6m summer signing was shown the red card 10 minutes from the end of a torrid match with Motherwell.

Celtic's manager and 58,534 others watched as his nine men hung on to a 1-0 victory to wrap up their second win out of two Scottish Premier League games. But it is a certainty that O'Neill will have been even more bewildered by the time he watched the television highlights on Saturday night.

Pictures clearly showed that not only had Sutton not committed any offence in the incident with his marker, Greg Strong, which brought his dismissal, but he himself had been the victim of a foul which, had it been punished, would have seen the Motherwell man take the long walk to the tunnel.

O'Neill refused to be drawn into a debate about whether his player's advance publicity might have counted against him. "It's too early to make assessments like that. Yes, Chris is physical, but so are the players he's playing against. It's a man's game.

"I don't know if there is a campaign against him, but I thought the sending-off was harsh. I thought he reacted well when a couple of hefty challenges came in against him and the referee simply waved play on.

"I was very surprised at Sutton's first booking and then his second one as well. I thought it was a 50-50 challenge and had the referee given it the other way it wouldn't have been a total surprise."

The match referee, Alan Freeland, may have been able to claim with some justification that he got the sendings-off of Jackie McNamara and Motherwell's John Davies correct, but the official clearly seemed to have made up his mind about Sutton from the start.

Held back by Strong's armlock as early as the third minute, Sutton earned, if that is the right word, his first yellow card in the 25th minute for refusing to stay down after Strong had cut him down from the back. The former Bolton defender was rightly booked, but Sutton's card, for merely trying to retain possession, was simply to even the score.

Sutton's style, hands in the face and chest, were clearly highlighted in the live televised match with Dundee United last Sunday when he had a running battle with Jason de Vos. But here he genuinely attempted to stay on the right side of the law.

Perhaps the former Blackburn striker and Strong have an unknown history dating back to some some obscure occasion in Lancashire, but the Motherwell man's interest was more than professional.

When the pair chased after Olivier Tébily's 80th-minute pass, television merely confirmed what everyone at Parkhead saw at the time - that Strong grabbed Sutton's shirt and hauled him down.

The red card was anticipated, but for Strong, not Sutton. The venom of Parkhead's patrons rained down on Freeland and O'Neill was spoken to by the referee for taking his protests too far.

O'Neill and Sutton can forget an appeal. This is not the Carling Premiership; it is Scotland, where video evidence is not admissible and sentences are not commuted. What the pair will now have to do is sit down and plan a strategy to keep Sutton out of referees' line of fire as much as possible.

It all overshadowed the sublime goal from Stilian Petrov after just 10 minutes which decided the match. The young Bulgarian midfielder killed Paul Lambert's header on his chest and swivelled to bury a right- foot volley beyond Andy Goram.

Motherwell stripped seven points from Celtic last term, which was not lost on O'Neill, who praised his team. He said: "It was a nervous, edgy performance, perhaps because Motherwell took a lot of points off us last season, but we dug in when we went down to nine men - I was pleased we saw it through."

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