SUNDERLAND coach Charlie Oatway has denied that Lee Cattermole has played his last game for the Black Cats after he was left out of Wednesday's victory over ten-man Stoke City.
The 1-0 win, courtesy of Adam Johnson's first-half goal, lifted Sunderland out of the drop zone for the first time since August but Cattermole was a notable absence from the squad.
Oatway, taking media duties in the absence of Gus Poyet, who was ill, denied that there was any ulterior motive in leaving Cattermole – who is the subject of interest from The Potters – out last night.
"Lee Cattermole just had a little bit of a knock and it flared up again today,” explained the coach.
“It wasn't worth the risk to play him today and lose him for three or four games, we'd have shot ourselves in the foot doing that.
“There's no bids in for him as far as I know. He had an injury, that was it. He's felt a pain in his calf and there's no way to play in that kind of pain.”
Cattermole's former Middlesbrough teammate Johnson won the day for Sunderland, continuing his superb start to 2014 by notching his sixth goal in six appearances and his eighth of the season – and Oatway is delighted to be getting the best out of their winger, who has blown hot and cold in his two-season stay on Wearside, and that his resurgence in form has effectively fired Sunderland out of the drop zone.
"We're under no illusions as to Adam Johnson's ability. He's provided us with the spark and we'll put cotton wool around him. He's had a knock and played with it and been fantastic,” said Oatway, who worked with Poyet while at Brighton and Hove Albion until last summer.
"Getting out of the bottom three is one of the first things we wanted to achieve when we came in so it's a nice feeling. you can see the style we want to play in and we're getting there slowly but surely. We're improving in a lot of areas and hopefully the fans feel a little bit more at-ease.
"There's been a lot of key factors. We're under no illusions as to how much more hard work there is to do.”
The transfer window closes tomorrow, with Sunderland expected to unveil attacker Nacho Scocco today after the Argentinian was in the stands at the Stadium of Light last night – and Oatway admits that it is a struggle to focus on football while the transfer merrygoround provides such a sideshow.
"It's a tough busy time but everyone's going through the same. you're trying to hold onto your players and buy others and then you've got games coming up as well. It's constant, it's constant,” said Oatway.
"We're trying to add up the points from this little run of games. It's a big month. We've done well of late and we're managing to get points and claw it back on the others.”
Stoke were reduced to ten men after Steven N'Zonzi was sent off in the second half, and Potters manager Mark Hughes was angry to come away from Wearside without a point.
"We deserved more. We're disappointed a performance of great desire and skill has got no reward. Too many times this season we've been hurt by refereeing decision. I feel it was a poor decision for the referee,” said Hughes, after N'Zonzi was dismissed for a second bookable offence for a foul on Black Cats striker Jozy Altidore.
"The lad's gone down easily looking for an advantage and there was a lot of that going on during the night. The lad's bought a challenge and gone down easily and the ref's seen fit to give Steven a card for that challenge which is unbelievable in my view."
Meanwhile, Hughes, who denied interest in Cattermole and fellow transfer target Steven Fletcher, does not expect much more movement in the final hours of the transfer window.
"I'm not sure I've had an update on the transfer situation but as we stand at the moment the possibility of getting more in isn't high,” admitted Hughes. “Things happen quickly and could change but if we don't get any more in I've got a good bunch of players and if we go with them until the end of the season I'd be happy."