Jeff Whitley will miss Sunderland's FA Cup semi-final after being sent off for violent conduct in Wednesday night's 3-3 draw with Preston North End at the Stadium of Light. The central midfielder faces a minimum three-match ban after he seemed to follow up a two-footed tackle on Richard Cresswell in the 59th minute by lashing out at Graham Alexander.
With the score at 1-1, the Black Cats were already struggling to break down their opponents, who were hit by injuries. But they moved up a gear to take the lead twice more, only to be pegged back by a late equaliser.
The substitutes Sean Thornton and Marcus Stewart restored Sunderland's advantage in a pulsating second half, the former with a stunning 70th-minute free-kick and Stewart from a penalty after 82 minutes.
Tyrone Mears, whose own goal midway through the first half was cancelled out by David Healy, netted the second equaliser in the 79th minute before a superbly struck Eddie Lewis free-kick gave Preston the point they richly deserved.
The Preston manager, Craig Brown, believes his side are still in with a chance of reaching the First Division play-offs, especially if the nine players missing from last night's match respond to treatment.
"We are still in contention with the home games we have to come. We have a good opportunity to gather some points," Brown said. "This team does not know when it is beaten, we battle away from home, and Sunderland is a difficult place to come and get a point even if the Cup has had an effect on them."
Phil Prosser constantly incensed the home crowd with a series of controversial decisions but the official from West Yorkshire was left with no option but to dismiss Whitley for his moment of madness.
The Sunderland manager, Mick McCarthy, claimed the match turned on the dismissal of Whitley. "I thought the two of them went into a tackle but it looked a bad tackle. There was a suggestion that he was sent off for a punch, but he never did," McCarthy said.
"I am very disappointed. With 10 men some people might think I am delighted with a point, but I am not. I thought we were excellent in the first half and did not deserve the sucker punch before half-time. It gave them a bonus going in and it was a big disappointment for us."
Brighton boosted their hopes of a place in the Second Division play-offs with a 3-0 win over Tranmere. The midfielder Gary Hart and strikers Trevor Benjamin and Leon Knight all scored within 31 minutes to move Brighton up to fifth place.