AT 1.20pm, Kevin Mirallas lunged studs-first into Luis Suarez and left blood dripping from the Uruguayan’s thigh.
The punishment? A yellow card.
At 3.36pm, Wes Brown won the ball cleanly as he went full-blooded into a slide tackle with Charlie Adam and barely made contact with the Scottish midfielder.
The punishment? A red card.
If the FA wants any “respect” for its officials, then this farcical inconsistency has to end.
It won’t of course.
Those at Soho Square will continue to stick fingers in ears and villain of the piece Kevin Friend will probably be in charge of another Premier League game next weekend.
By then, Sunderland are likely to have Wes Brown back in their midst after what MUST be a successful appeal from the Black Cats.
But that’s little consolation for Sunderland after losing what was a hugely significant clash at the wrong end of the table – with Crystal Palace’s win taking them above the Wearsiders, who are now bottom.
Friend’s abysmal decision changed both the game and potentially Sunderland’s season. That much was riding on this one.
The worrying thing was that the Leicestershire-based official had a clear-cut view of Brown’s perfectly-timed tackle.
In real time, it didn’t look like a foul.
Peter Crouch, standing a yard away from the incident, didn’t even appeal. The linesman, five yards away, didn’t raise his flag.
But this was the most damning indictment yet for those arguing Sunderland have had a raw deal from referees this season.
It was a decision which left you thoroughly disenchanted over the non-contact nature of modern football.
Sunderland boss Gus Poyet threw his jacket to the floor in disgust. He did well to stop himself running onto the pitch and confronting Friend.
What made it worse was that it thoroughly altered the complexion of what had been a tightly-poised and surprisingly entertaining encounter.
At 1-0 down, Poyet’s side were very much still in it, with their full quota of players.
Sunderland had been the better side until mdifielder Adam finished off a well-worked move for the Potters and enjoyed a golden opportunity to go ahead when Adam Johnson picked out Steven Fletcher.
Poyet’s men had passed the ball around intelligently and showed no inclination to settle for a draw, with both full-backs pushed high up the field.
There was a confidence and a composure surrounding the Black Cats, and, to be fair, Stoke tried to play a bit too, with right-back Geoff Cameron the chief dangerman – getting forward well and whipping a succession of dangerous crosses into the area.
But the sending-off ruined the spectacle.
To their credit, Sunderland continued to push bodies forward in support of Fletcher and persisted in getting the ball down.
They were always vulnerable on the counter-attack, though, and it was an elegant chip from Steven Nzonzi which secured the points.
Moments before then, Friend didn’t even award a foul for a chest-high challenge from Stoke keeper Asmir Begovic on a falling Fletcher.
It was more of a red than Brown’s, yet as was evident yesterday afternoon, no-one seems to know what does and doesn’t constitute a sending-off any more.
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