TEN-MAN Sunderland succumbed to a fifth successive defeat away from home after suffering a refereeing horror show from Kevin Friend.
The Leicestershire-based official’s decision to hand fit-again Wes Brown a straight red card completely overshadowed the 2-0 loss at fellow strugglers Stoke City after the former England international was shockingly dismissed for what appeared a thoroughly fair first half challenge on Charlie Adam.
That fourth sending off of the season for Sunderland gave them an uphill task at the Britannia Stadium after Adam had given the hosts the lead against the run of play.
Gus Poyet’s side pushed valiantly for a leveller in the second half, but their hopes of a point were ended in the 81st minute when Steven Nzonzi doubled the Potters’ advantage.
Sunderland were unchanged from the side which beat Man City a fortnight earlier, with Wes Brown continuing at the heart of the Black Cats defence.
But there was no place for the injured Keiren Westwood among the substitutes, with teenage stopper Jordan Pickford recalled from his loan spell at League Two Burton and included on the bench.
Stoke boss Mark Hughes made two changes from the side which drew at Swansea, with Charlie Adam and Glenn Whelan replacing Stephen Ireland and Wilson Palacios in midfield.
Sunderland had an opportunity to break the deadlock in the sixth minute when Emanuele Giaccherini broke through midfield and layed the ball off to Adam Johnson down the right-hand side of the box.
Johnson twisted and turned before pulling the ball back to Jack Colback on the edge of the area, whose left-footed shot was deflected wide.
Charlie Adam inadvertently went close in the 10th minute when his inswinging free-kick from the right curled onto the roof of Vito Mannone’s net.
Sunderland should have gone ahead three minutes later when Johnson picked out Steven Fletcher with a pinpoint ball over the top.
Fletcher brought the ball down with his chest, but then saw his left-footed shot on the turn well-saved by the sprawling Asmir Begovic.
Moments later, Begovic got himself in a muddle when Phil Bardsley’s high ball into the box took a couple of deflections and bypassed the Stoke keeper before Ryan Shawcross got back to clear off the line.
Against the run of play, it was the Potters who went ahead in the 29th minute when Geoff Cameron clipped a ball down the right-hand channel for the bursting Steven Nzonzi, who had beaten the Sunderland offside trap and got in behind the Black Cats defence.
Nzonzi pulled it back into the path of Adam, who slotted the ball into the far corner from 15 yards out.
Sunderland were then reduced to 36th minute after a horrendous decision from referee Kevin Friend.
Wes Brown slid into a challenge on Adam which was hard, but fair, and cleanly won the ball - barely making contact with the Scottish international.
But Friend decided to show the former Manchester United man a straight red card, prompting a furious reaction from Poyet on the touchline.
Poyet then reshuffled his defence, with Valentin Roberge coming on at centre-half and Giaccherini sacrificed.
HALF-TIME Stoke 1 Sunderland 0
Phil Bardsley tested Begovic’s reflexes in the 55th minute with a low right-footed drive from 25 yards which the Stoke keeper gathered low to his left.
Johnson fired just wide from the edge of the area with a left-footed grass-cutter in the 71st minute after collecting Ki Sung-Yeung’s lay-off.
Sunderland gave it a good-go in search of an equaliser, but their hopes of a point were ended with nine minutes to go as Stoke grabbed a second.
Peter Crouch fed the ball in behind the Sunderland defence with a well-weighted pass for Nzonzi, who lifted it carefully over the advancing Vito Mannone.
Marko Arnautovic should have added a third in stoppage time but fired wide after being picked out by Crouch’s clever reverse pass.
FULL-TIME Stoke 2 Sunderland 0
STOKE: Begovic, Cameron, Shawcross, Huth (Wilkinson 77), Pieters, Walters, Nzonzi, Whelan, Adam (Palacios 82), Arnautovic, Crouch. Subs not used: Sorensen, Muniesa, Shea, Assaidi, Etherington. Booked: Pieters (69), Arnautovic (78)
SUNDERLAND: Mannone, Celustka (Borini 69), O’Shea, Brown, Bardsley, Ki, Colback, Larsson, Johnson, Giaccherini (Roberge 40), Fletcher (Altidore 85). Subs not used: Cabral, Gardner, Mavrias, Pickford. Sent off: Brown (36), Larsson (73)
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