Sunderland midfielder Craig Gardner has backed skipper Lee Cattermole after seeing him collect the fifth red card of his Black Cats career.
The 24-year-old was dismissed for an ugly lunge at defender Adam Chicksen after losing control of the ball during the first half of Tuesday night's 2-0 Capital One Cup third-round victory at MK Dons. As a result, he will miss Barclays Premier League games against Wigan, Manchester City and, crucially, derby rivals Newcastle.
Gardner told the Sunderland Echo: "I feel sorry for Catts because he's been brilliant all season. His attitude in training and on the pitch is spot on. He's a true leader and I just feel sorry for him."
He added: "He's the last person in the world who wants to get sent off. He was rock-bottom in the dressing room afterwards and everyone was trying to pick him up.
"Hopefully we will get him back in the team. From where I was standing at right-back, it didn't look too bad. But I could be wrong. He was the other side of the pitch.
"We have got to get behind him and lift him up."
Cattermole's record does not make for good reading: since joining Sunderland from Wigan during the summer of 2009, he has made 79 appearances for the club and been cautioned on 28 occasions in addition to his five dismissals.
His sending-off on Tuesday night was his first straight red card with his previous four dismissals coming as the result of a second bookable offence.
Cattermole's second season on Wearside started in particularly grim fashion with two red cards in his first four games, while the last campaign saw him cautioned on no fewer than 12 occasions.
He also managed a dozen yellow cards in single campaign during his time with home-town club Middlesbrough in 2006-07, and picked up 10 yellow and two red in his one season with Wigan.