Gaetano Berardi’s season has been ended by a five-game ban after the defender was sent off for the third time in Leeds United’s 1-1 draw with Sunderland.
Berardi took his tally of dismissals for this season to three and United’s to eight as a 90th-minute foul on Sunderland’s Callum McManaman earned him a straight red card on Saturday.
The defender, who was captaining Leeds, had previously been sent off for a headbutt in Leeds’ 3-0 win at Bristol City in October and two bookable offences in their 4-1 defeat to Cardiff City in February, the last game of Thomas Christiansen’s reign as head coach.
Dismissals for serious foul play carry an automatic three-match ban but the Football Association increases a player’s suspension by an additional match for every extra red card incurred, a system which has ruled Berardi out of the remainder of Leeds’ campaign.
United are five games away from wrapping up their term, through the club have nothing left to play for following a season-ending run of two wins from 15 league fixtures. Berardi will have missed no fewer than 10 matches through suspension by the time the campaign finishes.
Leeds boss Paul Heckingbottom said he was as “upset” by the challenge but he defended Berardi, insisting the Swiss full-back’s two-footed tackle on McManaman had been a genuine attempt to play the ball.
“I’ve spoken with Berra because I’m upset about it but Berra’s an honest person,” Heckingbottom said. “I’ve questioned ‘has he lost his head and his discipline?’ He’s accepted that it’s a bad tackle but he’s said it’s not through frustration. He’s genuinely going for the ball.”
Leeds suffered a spate of four red cards in five games prior to Christiansen’s sacking, including Berardi’s sending off against Cardiff, and Heckingbottom set improving discipline as a priority when he took charge.
“We had to do that,” he said. “But the problem is, I would never want to punish anyone for making tackles. If it’s through a lack of discipline or frustration then yes, you’re letting your teammates down. But if you’re going for the ball, we have to have players who go for the ball.”
Leeds recovered from a goal down to earn a draw with a Sunderland side who are all but relegated from the Championship, seven points from safety with five games to play.
Pablo Hernandez scored his ninth goal of the season on 72 minutes to cancel out Paddy McNair’s opener in a match which saw both sides strike the woodwork and create numerous chances.
Heckingbottom, whose side are 13th, said: “After going behind you can’t be satisfied with a draw but I do give the players credit for coming back. We opened the game up and we knew we’d give Sunderland more opportunities by doing that but we hoped we’d create more and we did.”