The front page of the Oatcake fanzine on sale outside the stadium offered a wry reference to the controversial injury-time penalty that had spared Mark Hughes’s men defeat at Swansea a fortnight ago: “Potters finally benefit from a dodgy decision.”
Perhaps they will want to reassess their relationship with Lady Luck after the controversial dismissal of Sunderland defender Wes Brown proved a decisive moment in Stoke’s first Premier League win since 31 August.
Stoke may have been leading through Charlie Adam’s 30th-minute strike, but the visitors were very much in the game when Brown became the third Sunderland player in three games to see red, after a 50-50 challenge on Adam in which the defender appeared to win the ball cleanly. A late goal from Steven Nzonzi eventually killed off the 10 men from Wearside but Gus Poyet, the visiting manager, had no doubt about the game’s key incident.
The furious Sunderland manager walked into the press room with a laptop and said: “I’ve got the computer, if you want we can watch it. The linesman didn’t put the flag up, the fourth official said he didn’t say a word, the referee took three or four seconds to give a foul that was not even a foul.”
Citing the apology that Mike Riley, head of the refereeing body, gave to Steve Clarke this week after a highly disputed Chelsea penalty against his West Bromwich team, Poyet went as far as to demand a call from Riley. “I would like the referees’ association to apologise to me this time, they did it last week. If they called a British manager, now it’s time to call a foreign manager and we make it 1-1 [and for] the referees to say no red card and I don’t need to appeal.”
Brown’s return after 21 months out injured has coincided with Poyet’s arrival and Sunderland’s recent upturn and it was hard to see why he warranted a red card: he certainly flew into the tackle but his studs were not raised, even if Hughes saw it differently.
The Stoke manager argued that Brown had “caught [Adam] on the outside of the leg” and added: “Maybe Wes was a little bit out of control, a little bit reckless. At the time I thought it was a poor challenge. Whether or not it merited a sending-off, that is the debate after the game, which is a shame as it takes the shine off our performance.”
It was not the only talking point involving the referee, Kevin Friend, who later spared home goalkeeper Asmir Begovic a booking when he raised a high foot to beat Steven Fletcher to the ball and caught the Sunderland striker in the chest on the follow-through.
For Hughes, this was his 100th Premier League win as a manager and owed plenty to midfielder Nzonzi, who carried out his manager’s instructions to “get higher up the park”. It was his burst down the right, turn and cross that led to Adam’s goal, a precise first-time finish with his left foot into the far corner.
That put paid to Sunderland’s bright start that had almost brought a goal when Fletcher sprang the offside trap but could not beat Begovic. Robert Huth almost put the ball into his own net soon after but for Ryan Shawcross to scramble it clear.
Sunderland played the last 39 minutes of their previous away fixture, the 1-0 loss at Hull, with nine men after the dismissals of Lee Cattermole and Andrea Dossena. With Brown off, Poyet withdrew winger Emanuele Giaccherini for defender Valentin Roberge yet the second half was a low-key affair, Stoke settling it with nine minutes left when Peter Crouch’s pass dissected the defence and Nzonzi finished past Vito Mannone. Marko Arnautovic should have added a third but for Sunderland the damage was done as they headed home, bottom of the table and nursing a very big grievance.
Stoke (4-2-3-1): Begovic; Cameron, Shawcross, Huth (Wilkinson, 77), Pieters; Whelan, Nzonzi; Walters Adam (Palacios, 82), Arnautovic; Crouch.
Sunderland (4-2-3-1): Mannone; Celustka (Borini 69), O’Shea, Brown, Bardsley; Ki; Johnson, Larsson, Colback, Giaccherini (Roberge, 40); Fletcher (Altidore, 85).
Referee: Kevin Friend.
Man of the match: Nzonzi (Stoke)
Match rating: 6/10