SUNDERLAND have become the bad boys of the Premier League, prompting Steve Bruce to warn his players they must stop making rash challenges or risk derailing their season.

The Wearsiders are jointbottom of the Premier League fair play table following Lorik Cana’s sending-off in Tuesday’s home defeat to Aston Villa.

The Albania international is suspended from tomorrow’s trip to Manchester City after becoming the third Sunderland player this season to be shown a red card and Bruce has admitted to growing concerns about on-field indiscipline.

The manager stressed he does not want midfield tyros Cana and Lee Cattermole to curb their full-blooded tackles, but demanded that his players cut out what he branded as “stupid” challenges.

Bruce cited Kenwyne Jones’ push on West Ham defender Herita Ilunga, that earned the Black Cats striker a straight red card in October, and Kieran Richardson’s dismissal at Old Trafford earlier that month as being typical of the petulant misdemeanors that have plagued Sunderland’s campaign.

Bruce is hoping that his injury- hit squad can avoid picking up further suspensions against Mark Hughes’ side as the Black Cats try to end their run of four consecutive away defeats.

“I will forgive if it is a tackle and a genuine attempt to win the ball or you mistimed a tackle. Then I think it is part and parcel of football,” noted Bruce who is expected to hand Cattermole a start at the City of Manchester Stadium after the midfielder suffered no reaction from his brief run out against Villa.

“I want my team to be physical and you have to be that way. It’s the silly ones: Kenwyne who was punished, Kieran who was punished for kicking the ball away, I won’t abide that at all.

“If they are genuinely trying to make a tackle like Lorik does on numerous occasions and Cattermole is the same then you are going to pick up bookings in today’s game.

“Let’s be fair, you don’t have to do much to get a yellow card so it is very, very difficult.’’ Bruce’s side are the fair play league’s basement club alongside Bolton Wanderers after picking up 33 yellow cards and three red in their 17 matches.

No top flight player has earned more yellow cards than Cana this season and Cattermole’s return brings another tenacious character who is no stranger to the referee’s notebook. The former Wigan midfielder was shown ten yellow and two red cards last season but Bruce refuses to ask the Teessider to rein-in his battling instincts.

“You want a competitive team and when we have got Cana, Cattermole and Mensah then we are very competitive.

“So you know that you are going to pick up suspensions and I think that it is just part and parcel of it. It is the stupid ones, like the Kenwyne thing for instance where he pushes someone in the chest, that is what I can not condone.”

■ Tickets for Sunderland’s trip to Chelsea on Saturday January 16, kick-off 3pm are now on open sale. Prices start at £44 for adults and £19.50 concessions.