Cattermole Wants Fresh Start
Sunderland skipper Lee Cattermole is already looking forward to next season and a fresh start under Martin O'Neill.
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The Black Cats spent the opening months of the current campaign struggling desperately in a vain attempt to find their feet, and the following three months fighting a concerted rearguard action to drag themselves away from the scrap at the foot of the Barclays Premier League table.
On Sunday, they will bring down the curtain on an eventful campaign when Manchester United head for the Stadium of Light knowing victory for Manchester City over QPR will see the title they have guarded so jealously for much of the last two decades claimed by their arch-rivals whatever they do on Wearside, barring an improbable avalanche of goals.
They will do so with midfielder Cattermole relieved in some ways to see the back of a difficult season, but relishing the prospect of his return to work in July.
He said: "It's a tough game, isn't it? Every season is hard for different reasons.
"This season, we lost Steve Bruce, which was a shame, but it happens and we had to move on. We picked up quickly under Martin O'Neill and we have gone from strength to strength.
"In the last couple of weeks, we have maybe not got our foot in front in games we felt we could have.
"But pre-season will be big for Sunderland this year and there will be a lot of time to prepare for the first game."
The Black Cats, who had banked only 11 points by the time Bruce was shown the door to make way for O'Neill's arrival in December, find themselves in a comfortable mid-table position.
Victory on Sunday could see them finish in 10th place, just as they did 12 months ago, while defeat might force them as low as 14th, the legacy of a seven-game run which has failed to yield a single victory and only five points.
But it is perhaps the fixture which immediately preceded that sequence which holds the key.
Having held Everton to a 1-1 draw at Goodison Park on March 17, Sunderland welcomed the Toffees to the north-east 10 days later for an FA Cup quarter-final replay dreaming of a trip to Wembley.
However, a powerful display by the visitors saw them ease to a comfortable 2-0 win.
Cattermole said: "We got ourselves into such a good position and started looking at the FA Cup game and potentially getting to Wembley, but we lost that game.
"Then we had a couple of games where we could have kicked on and looked at an eighth-placed finish - it was still on if we had beaten Fulham at the weekend.
"But we have ended up drawing games we think we could have been capable of winning, and it's just slipped away from us a bit."
Cattermole and his team-mates will run out knowing there is little more than pride at stake for them, something which will delight O'Neill, who has admitted on more than once occasion that he could not have expected Sunderland to cross the safety line as quickly as they did from the position in which he found them.
The 24-year-old said: "It's a great game to be involved in. Obviously, the position we are in in the league, there is nothing much for us to play for at the minute other than trying to finish in the top 10 if we can beat Manchester United.
"But United have obviously got a title on the line and if Manchester City do slip up, United want to pounce, so it is going to be a competitive game.
"It's a great game for our fans as well. It's been a tough season for them and they have stuck with us all the way.
"It's a good game for us to finish, there will be a lot to play for."