Skipper backing under-fire boss Bruce
WITH Sunderland preparing for their most important game of the season this afternoon, Lee Cattermole has expressed his staunch support for the club's under-fire manager Steve Bruce. The Black Cats entertain relegation rivals Wigan Athletic on the back of a nine-game winless run that has seen them plunge to within five points of the bottom three with five games remaining. The sequence, which mirrors last season's run of 14 games without a victory at a similar stage of the campaign, has piled pressure on Bruce, who was booed by a section of the Stadium of Light crowd in Sunderland's last home game against West Brom. Cattermole is as frustrated as anyone at the dramatic downturn in form, but insists it is wrong to place any of the blame at the manager's door. "The manager might be getting some stick, but expectations have changed since he took over and he's brought some stability, which is important," said the Sunderland skipper, who made a £6m move from Wigan in August 2009. "The fact people have been talking about Europe this season just shows how far we've come. The manager has been brilliant, and it would be nice to finish the season off strongly for him. "He's a winner. He has his standards and if the players don't match them, he's quick to step on them, pull them in and tell them what he expects. Every player here knows what the manager wants and we're still fighting to produce it. "He gets very close to the players and I've got nothing but praise for him. He's been brilliant for me and he's done a very good job here as well." Cattermole's close personal relationship with Bruce stretches back to the day in July, 2008, when the then Wigan boss shelled out £3.5m to sign the Stockton-born midfielder from Middlesbrough. The Teessider quickly became the heartbeat of the Latics midfield, and one of Bruce's first acts as Sunderland manager was to prise him from the DW Stadium despite initial resistance from Wigan chairman Dave Whelan. Their relationship was tested when they returned to their former stamping ground last September, and having been sent off on the opening day of the season against Birmingham, Cattermole received his second red card in the space of three appearances when his reckless 24th-minute tackle on Hugo Rodallega was punished by referee Andre Marriner. At the time, a number of supporters and commentators urged Bruce to strip the 23-year-old of the captain's armband, but the Black Cats boss held firm, a display of faith that was greatly appreciated. "He didn't speak to me for about ten days after the Wigan game, but I didn't want to speak to him either," said Cattermole. "We weren't blanking each other, we still said hello - he's always great like that - but he knew that I knew myself. "I didn't want to speak to anyone for the whole week. I was coming in, training hard and taking my frustrations out there. It was two weeks before I could play again and he pulled me before the Liverpool away game and said, 'You've got nothing to prove, go out and play your normal game'. He stuck by me." Nevertheless, Cattermole has had to modify his 'normal game' slightly to avoid yet another costly dismissal. He insists he will never change his tough-tackling style, but accepts that if he is booked in the early stages of a game he will have to adopt a more cautious approach in the minutes that remain. To his credit, he has been booked on seven occasions since his last dismissal and not seen yellow turn into a red. "When I'm on a yellow card now, I do take a step back," he said. "It is hard for me. At home to West Brom, I felt like I had a big effect on the game in the first half and then I got booked. "I was frustrated with the booking because I didn't touch the lad, and it doesn't help when players are rolling around and things like that. But the thought of getting sent off again scared me. "Although I need to make sure I don't get booked in the first place, I need to make sure my performance doesn't dip after a yellow card. That's not always easy with the way I play." He will certainly have to be on his guard today, with Wigan's players likely to target him, given his combustible nature and the importance of the occasion. If things go wrong this afternoon, Sunderland could find themselves just three points off the relegation zone. If things go right, however, they could finish the day in the top half of the table. "We may have lost our way in the last nine games, but everyone is determined to put things right," said Cattermole. "We have two home games now and, earlier in the season, they were the type of games we would have relished. "We have to be confident, show passion and desire and give the fans what they want. It's hard when you're in a run like this but we just need something to go for us to get us back to where we were."
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