An afternoon that promised ever more frustration for both Sunderland and Stoke City as each minute elapsed finally brought some home comfort via the forehead of Kenwyne Jones and the predatory instinct of David Healy, but no respite and a 10th away-day defeat for Stoke. They remain afloat, fourth-bottom because the three below also lost, while Sunderland climbed to 11th; but such details were rivalled for attention by Rob Styles' refereeing.
Styles' baffling failure in the 40th minute to award Sunderland a penalty, when the Stoke substitute Danny Pugh clearly pushed Steed Malbranque's close-range header off the line, dumbfounded home players and fans alike.
It also created a noisy atmosphere of injustice that may have contributed to Styles' decision 20 minutes after the interval to dismiss Stoke's Matthew Etherington for booting Danny Collins off the ball. This was stupidity on Etherington's part but Styles could hardly have beenquicker to produce his red card.
"Your words, not mine," said Tony Pulis when that scenario was put to him. "I'm hoping Rob Styles looks at it, I don't think Matty violently kicked out, it was a booking at most. The lad Collins has blocked him off. And the sending-off changed the game."
That analysis was debateable but Pulis did have points to make about the disruption caused by the three enforced substitutions before the half-hour mark was reached – and over Henri Camara's 66th minute chance when the striker, signed on loan from Wigan last week, struck the crossbar from four yards. That came immediately after Etherington's dismissal and as Pulis said, "would have given us something to hang on to".
Instead Sunderland were able to resume a second-half that had developed into a siege of the Stoke area. It was a further 13 minutes of crosses from the left, by Andy Reid and George McCartney, before Jones met one of Reid's with power. He got a good contact but Thomas Sorensen, formerly of this parish, spooned the ball in as an upright loomed into his view. Pulis was kind to say Sorensen "slipped".
It was Jones's ninth goal of a season that did not begin properly until November, and another justification of the club's determination to retain Jones in January in the face of Tottenham's and Aston Villa's advances.
That enabled Sunderland to relax. In injury-time, with the lamentable Djibril Cissé off, his replacement Healy nipped in at the far post to drill in Jones's skewed shot. It was Healy's first home goal, his first for Sunderland in the Premier League.
The victory was Sunderland's second in succession at home and with a draw at Newcastle in between, the manager Ricky Sbragia said "the target" of seven points from the three games had been achieved. He sounded drained by them though, and was wry about Styles' non-decision on the penalty. "They have this ability to miss them," Sbragia said of referees.
As well as that, Sunderland had a Collins header cleared off the line in the first half – by Stoke debutant Stephen Kelly – and Collins headed over when unmarked at the far post on 15 minutes. So they shaded the first half on opportunities but Pulis had to bring on Pugh after 18 minutes, Ibrahima Sonko after 26 and Camara after 30. Camara replaced Ricardo Fuller who fell and dislocated his shoulder, Pulis said. "He'll be out for two-to-three months.
Referee: Rob Styles
Man of the match: Richardson
Match rating: 5/10Reuse content