Steve Bruce resisted the temptation to join his former boss in lambasting referee Andre Marriner, directing his anger instead towards the West Ham defender Herita Ilunga after a red card for striker Kenwyne Jones left Sunderland to recover from a 2-0 deficit with only 10 men.
The Birmingham official, whose competence was questioned by Sir Alex Ferguson over his handling of Manchester United's visit to Anfield last week, when United's Nemanja Vidic and Liverpool's Javier Mascherano were sent off, issued six yellow cards and two reds, dismissing Jones just before half-time.
Jones was foolish, retaliating against a foul by Ilunga by pushing the defender with both hands. But after Ilunga had collapsed holding his face and was treated with an ice pack before resuming, Bruce accused the Congolese international of "play-acting."
"Kenwyne was stupid but he has pushed Ilunga, that's all," Bruce said. "But when you see the play-acting, then the medical people running on with an ice pack for an eye injury, it is all just a ploy. There was nothing there. I was looking for a big gash but there was not even a bruise. Ilunga's behaviour left a lot to be desired and it makes it hard for referees."
West Ham's Radoslav Kovac was the second player to go. Booked for first-half dissent, the midfielder was sent off for a second yellow three minutes from time after his boot connected with Darren Bent. It looked like an accident, so it was a harsh decision.
Amazingly, given all that, it was a tremendous match, after which Gian-franco Zola, the West Ham manager, managed to set aside his disappointment at losing a two-goal lead to applaud the home side. "Their desire and fighting spirit were remarkable," Zola said. "But we were in control of the game and we let them back into it. Really, it feels like a defeat."
West Ham were in front after half an hour, Guillermo Franco arriving at the near post to convert a low cross from Jack Collison for his first goal since his move from Villarreal. Six minutes later, Carlton Cole scored a second, his fifth in six games, Collison again supplying the decisive pass.
When Jones went, it was hard to see Sunderland recovering, although they had pulled one back through Andy Reid's beautifully flighted free-kick from 20 yards. Yet they dominated the second half, and when Keiran Richardson launched himself at Bent's cross to level the scores, ending up in the net with the ball, it was no more than Sunderland deserved after penning the visitors in their own half.
Referee: Andre Marriner
Man of the match: Bent
Match rating: 8/10Reuse content