Yann M’Vila was on the verge of being substituted, before his Sunderland debut ended in red mist.
French international M’Vila was sent off on his first appearance in a red and white shirt after headbutting Norwich striker Jamar Loza midway through the second half of the Under-21s’ 3-1 win over the Canaries.
The on-loan Ruben Kazan midfielder - whose move to Sunderland was rubber-stamped last week - had been included for the U21s to build-up his match fitness, and he showed plenty of signs on promise.
But as M’Vila began to tire, development coach Robbie Stockdale was getting ready to bring him off before the game’s flashpoint.
Stockdale said: “It’s his first game back and he wants to make an impression.
“He’s seen his team-mate thrown to the floor – which I thought the referee could have controlled better – and he was a little bit daft.
“It’s a shame because he was doing OK and I was just about to take him off.”
A Mikael Mandron brace, plus a goal from the lively Lynden Gooch, saw Sunderland find the net three times inside five minutes at the end of the first half.
But result, rather than the performance, was more pleasing for Stockdale, who included first-team fringe players Will Buckley, Valentin Roberge and Charis Mavrias.
“I’m pleased with the result, but I don’t think we played well,” he added.
“But I used to hate playing the first game of the season anyway because you’re never quite sure where you’re at.
“There were first-team lads dropping down, and they did well, but they haven’t worked with us through the week or anything like that.
“So you have to manage these things, but the positive was that we always looked a goal threat and should have scored more. You can’t always win pretty and it’s important at this level that you find a way to win.”