SUNDERLAND are confident they will not receive any additional punishment despite tonight's revelations that they were fined for fielding an ineligible player in four Premier League matches and a Capital One Cup tie earlier this season.
The Black Cats played South Korean Ji Dong-won in league games against Fulham, Southampton, Crystal Palace and Manchester United, and August's League Cup tie with MK Dons, even though they did not possess the necessary international clearance for him to play.
The Premier League became aware of the situation when Sunderland officials confessed their error, and issued a hefty fine, which is understood to have run into six figures, in the wake of a board meeting in December.
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The Black Cats accepted their punishment, and are confident there will be no further repercussions in light of the situation becoming public.
However, the league's failure to dock points is likely to be a hotly-debated issue in the final six weeks of the season as Sunderland desperately attempt to safeguard their top-flight status.
The club picked up a point from a 1-1 draw at Southampton in one of the games that Ji was involved in while he was ineligible, and while the Premier League are unlikely their revisit their original decision only to impose a fine, there is a chance that some of Sunderland's relegation rivals could threaten legal action, particularly if the Black Cats were to survive the drop by a one-point margin.
The Premier League's rules relating to the fielding of an ineligible player (Rule 6.9) state: “Any club found to have played an ineligible player in a match shall have any points gained from that match deducted from its record and have levied upon it a fine.
“The company may vary this decision in respect of the points gained only in circumstances where the ineligibility is due to the failure to obtain an International Transfer Certificate or where the ineligibility is related to the player's status only.
“The board may also order that such match be replayed on such terms as are decided by the board which may also levy penalty points against the club in default.”
It appears as though the Premier League's decision not to impose a points sanction was driven by the fact that Sunderland's clerical error related to Ji's international clearance rather than an ineligibility because of suspension or registration.
Ji was returning from a loan spell at the German club Augsburg, but was still registered as Sunderland's player even though the necessary international paperwork had not been completed.
Other clubs have been docked points or thrown out of cup competitions in the past for fielding ineligible players, but it has generally been when the player in question was either suspended or had already represented a different team in the same competition.
Hartlepool United were deducted three points and received a suspended £10,000 fine in May 2010 when they played Gary Liddle in a 2-0 win over Brighton even though he should have been serving a suspension after picking up ten bookings.
Hereford United and Torquay United were also docked points when they both fielded an ineligible player in the same League Two match in April 2011.
Sunderland avoided a similar fate, and while a club spokesperson was unavailable for comment yesterday evening, the Premier League are not believed to have provided any indication that they will be revisiting the matter.
Whether the likes of Fulham, Cardiff City, West Brom and Crystal Palace are equally relaxed about the situation remains to be seen, with Sunderland currently four points adrift of safety with eight games remaining.
Similarly, MK Dons are understood to be concerned at the Football League's failure to throw the Black Cats out of the Capital One Cup, a decision that enabled Gustavo Poyet's side to progress all the way to a Wembley final, where they suffered a 3-1 defeat to Manchester City.
Ji left Sunderland to join Augsburg on a permanent basis in January, and has already agreed to move to Borussia Dortmund on a four-year contract in the summer.