SUNDERLAND fumed over their Tees-Wear derby defeat – with boss Ken Knighton insistent that the pivotal decision of the match went the wrong way.
The biggest talking point of the 98th derby between Sunderland and Middlesbrough came in the lead-up to Graeme Hedley’s expertly taken free-kick winner in the 39th minute.
A free-kick awarded against Sunderland striker John Hawley for pushing, on the halfway line, led to Shaun Elliott being penalised for challenging Boro forward David Hodgson two yards outside the visitors’ penalty area – a decision by referee Keith Hackett disputed by both Elliott and manager Knighton.
There was no disputing the execution of the 39th-minute free-kick, though. With everyone expecting David Armstrong to try his luck, Hedley stunned the Sunderland wall with a swerving shot which flew just inside the upright, with keeper Barry Siddall hopelessly beaten.
Knighton told the Echo: “I would like to invite the referee to my house, have a glass of beer and sit down with me and watch the game and tell me if he thinks that Shaun Elliott committed a foul.”
Hedley featured in another big moment with an over-the-top challenge on Elliott which left the Sunderland man in considerable pain.
The linesman had a close-up view of the incident, but did not bring the referee’s attention to it, and the Boro man escaped without even a booking.
Yet the same linesman flagged “merrily” for two minutes as the game continued following a bad challenge by Joe Bolton on Terry Cochrane in the 89th minute which led to the Sunderland left-back rightly being red-carded.
Knighton had words with Hedley as the players came off at the final whistle, and he said of the challenge: “Shaun got a nasty knock above the shin. It was indicative of an over-the-top tackle.”
On the sending-off, which saw Bolton land a four-match ban and an appearance before the FA’s disciplinary committee, plus a hefty club fine.
“I asked Bolton why he was sent off,” said Knighton. “If what he told me is true, he is in serious trouble.”
The left-back was the first Sunderland player to be sent off in almost two years, going back to Jeff Clarke’s dismissal at Bristol Rovers in April, 1979.
Boro completed their first double of the season, with Sunderland rarely able to threaten Jim Platt’s goal, barring an early effort from midfielder Ian Bowyer which was beaten down by the Northern Irishman.
Boro went closest to a second goal when Bosco Jankovic got clear, but he underhit his strike and Siddall saved comfortably. Other than that, neither keeper was pressed into making a serious save.
Knighton felt that a spirited comeback in the second half warranted at least a share of the spoils, but Sunderland, Geoff Storey wrote in the Echo, paid the penalty for not being more adventurous in the first half when they had the strong wind at their backs.
Storey wrote: “At times, Stan Cummins was left to cope with high balls down the middle against the towering Billy Ashcroft. On the occasions he did look like making progress, the graceful Irving Nattrass was always there with his timely interceptions.
“Tom Ritchie had a very quiet game on his first full appearance and Bowyer faded after a promising start, and the new pair did not fulfil the pre-match promise bestowed upon them by Knighton.
“Gordon Chisholm was Sunderland’s most effective player, with Steve Whitworth again turning in a sound, workmanlike performance.”