Monday 9 December 2019

Sunderland face legal battle to keep points

Sunderland manager Gus Poyet
Sunderland manager Gus Poyet

Daniel Taylor

The Premier League is facing the possibility of a legal battle with three of their own clubs after it emerged that Cardiff, Norwich and Fulham have joined forces and instructed lawyers to fight the controversial decision not to dock Sunderland points for fielding an ineligible player.

The first steps have been taken by a self-appointed "Gang of Three" to initiate proceedings about the way Sunderland were let off with a six-figure fine despite fielding Ji Dong-won in four league games, spread over seven weeks, earlier this season.

Norwich and Cardiff have enlisted Fulham's support to challenge the league, and a legal letter has been sent on behalf of the three clubs arguing that the offence was serious enough to merit a points deduction.

Sunderland's 1-0 win at Manchester United yesterday helped to relegate Fulham and Cardiff, and leaves the north-east club on a brilliant run of form, three points above third-from-bottom Norwich and on the verge of completing what Gus Poyet has described as a "miracle" escape.

However, there is now the distinct threat of a legal fight continuing into the summer if Sunderland's remarkable sequence of results – also including a 2-1 win at Chelsea and a 2-2 draw at Manchester City – finishes with them securing their top-flight status. The three clubs taking on the league are demanding a review of the Ji case. If that request is turned down, there is the strong chance that whichever club finishes 18th will sue.

League Two side AFC Wimbledon have just been docked three points for fielding an ineligible player and the lawyers for Norwich, Cardiff and Fulham have put together a lengthy list of cases in which clubs have broken the rules in similar positions and lost points as a result.

Their argument is that Sunderland have been treated as an exception, whereas there is a clear history of evidence that this offence ought to merit more than a fine.

The lawyers also note that Poyet has admitted being surprised the punishment was not heavier, and that Sunderland's manager has stated publicly that Southampton should have been awarded the victory when Ji played in the 1-1 draw at St Mary's in August.

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