TOUGH-TACKLING Sunderland midfielder Lee Cattermole last night launched a staunch defence of his combative style, claiming he has only made "one bad tackle" in the whole of his career.

Having picked up his third booking of the season in Sunderland's most recent match, a 2-2 draw with West Brom, Cattermole was hastily substituted with 20 minutes left in an attempt to prevent him being dismissed.

Last season, the Stockton-born 23-year-old received two red cards in the space of four matches, and finished the season with ten yellow cards to his name as his aggressive approach repeatedly led to him being penalised by the referee.

In Cattermole's eyes, his reputation now goes before him, yet the Sunderland skipper insists he is not a dirty player and even claims he can only recall one occasion when he felt he overstepped the mark.

"I feel like they (the referees) are out there for me at the minute," said Cattermole. "Maybe it's my stupid mistakes in the past that have got me that reputation, so I can't sit here and blame everyone else. I have to get rid of that reputation, but it's so hard at the minute when I find myself getting a succession of soft yellow cards.

"It affects your game. It's something I have to address, but if you put every foul I've ever made up on the television, I think there'd be one tackle which was actually a bad one.

"That was against Scott Parker when I was playing for Wigan and I've spoken to him since to apologise about it. That's the only bad tackle I've made in my career - all the rest have been genuine attempts to win the ball, not nasty attempts to hurt someone.

"You see some tackles and you wonder. Look at (Vincent) Kompany on (Tim) Cahill the other day - he just went straight over the ball into someone's shin. I've never done that in my life. I'm not a dirty player - I'm just an honest player, but maybe that's the way football is going at the moment."

As well as feeling victimised by referees, Cattermole also believes he suffers from the overreaction of some of the players he plays against.

Since displaying his fury at Steve Bruce's decision to substitute him against West Brom - a move he now accepts, even if he does not necessarily agree with - the Teessider has watched countless repeats of the two tackles that got him into trouble.

Both were against Baggies midfielder Steven Reid; both, according to Cattermole, were fair tackles followed by a wholly unfair reaction.

"The tackle I got booked for wasn't a foul, simple as that," he said. "But it's twice it's happened now with Steven Reid. He's six foot four and he rolls around like a girl, simple as that.

"It's twice its happened and it's a shame. People whinge about the foreigners, but he's a British lad and he's acting like that. I was booked for that challenge, and then the second one was on him again.

"I didn't touch him, he kicked the ball, and then he jumped up in the air. He thought about rolling around again then, but he got up.

"The gaffer took me off, and I was gutted because I felt as though I was really coming into the game. He gave me his reasons afterwards and it was understandable. The way things had gone, I think the referee was waiting for me to make a foul."

To make matters worse, the West Brom game marked Cattermole's return to the starting line-up after he had been controversially axed for the 4-0 win over Stoke and the 2-1 defeat at Norwich.

The demotion, which was all the more notable because of Cattermole's status as skipper, was the first time Bruce had dropped his midfield linchpin since shelling out £6m to sign him from Wigan in August 2009.

As a result, it dominated headlines and sparked a series of passionate debates among supporters, a reaction the midfielder feels was totally out of proportion to what actually went on.

"The gaffer probably changes three players for every game, but as soon as it was me it was a big issue and highlighted everywhere," he said.

"He told me the reasons, asked me if I wanted protecting in the papers and I said I didn't want anything. I just said, ‘Tell them it's my form and I'll bounce back from it'.

"Frank Lampard got left out at Chelsea and that got highlighted as well, but that could have been pure rotation because he had to play in the week. But the press still slaughtered him, saying his legs had gone and all sorts of things.

"He came out after scoring a hat-trick and said, ‘I've just got to keep working hard and keep my head down'. That's true.

"I play a lot of golf and, if you look at golfers, you can't play well every round. If there are others playing well and they step in, it's up to you to bounce back. That's what I'll do."