THERE WAS as much farce, as justice, in the decision to rescind Wes Brown’s red card yesterday.
It is right that Brown doesn’t serve a one-match ban after making minimal – if any contact – with Radamel Falcao as he collapsed to the deck at Old Trafford.
But it is a perverse set of rules which lets principal culprit John O’Shea come away without any sort of punishment during the game, or retrospectively.
From a Sunderland point of view, it’s excellent news. O’Shea has played every minute of every Premier League game so far this season and unlike Brown, is capable of coping with the physical demands of two outings inside four days.
Yet in terms of the stature of both the Premier League as a product, and referees as a whole, this has been another sorry episode.
The PGMO statement on Saturday night, when referee Roger East insisted there was no case of mistaken identity, was clearly designed to take some of the heat out of the situation and avoid constant re-runs of the incident.
But all it did was remove the risk of the suspension being transferred from Brown to O’Shea, in any subsequent appeal.
It’s slapstick stuff.
However, although Brown is free to feature at the KC Stadium tonight, it would still be a surprise if the 35-year-old keeps his place in the starting XI.
Brown’s recovery time has lengthened in his latter years and it has been telling how Poyet has been forced to shuffle the pack in central defence when Sunderland have faced midweek games so far this season.
Perhaps the ex-England man will shrug off fatigue after only playing an hour or so on Saturday. Certainly, tonight is the kind of game where experience is invaluable.
But Santiago Vergini will have to be on stand-by to partner O’Shea and attempt to stifle Hull striker Nikica Jelavic – if he recovers from a knee injury – with the ex-Everton man netting four goals in his last seven games.
Will Poyet make other changes? One will be enforced by Adam Johnson’s absence after yesterday’s events.
Fit-again Jack Rodwell surely has to come into the equation to replace Jordi Gomez in combating the bite in the Hull City midfield.
And the question of who partners Jermain Defoe in attack – either centrally or out wide – remains the enigma that Poyet has to get right sooner, rather than later.
Connor Wickham did well for the opening 20 minutes at Man United on Saturday from the left flank and he still looks the likeliest scorer, other than Defoe, despite Danny Graham’s shock second coming in a Sunderland shirt.
But it is imperative that someone steps up to the mark in front of goal tonight after four depressing blanks from Poyet’s men.
The next two games are make-or-break time for Sunderland. Any fresh failures could leave the Black Cats heading into a downwards spiral that they are unable to emerge from.
Hull will be confident too – both due to back-to-back wins over Aston Villa and QPR in their last two home games, plus Steve Bruce’s Midas touch over his former club, with four successive wins over Sunderland.
The last of them, Boxing Day’s 3-1 victory at the Stadium of Light, came despite the Tigers producing one of the worst opposition performances against Sunderland this season.
It was a combination of fortune, the ineptness of referee Andre Marriner and Sunderland’s inability to forget injustice, which saw Hull prevail.
It was one of those results where you indeed wondered whether Bruce has some sort of curse over the Black Cats, in retribution for the “expectations, Geordie thing, blah, blah” which he believes contributed towards his downfall on Wearside.
But Hull’s run against Sunderland has to end some time. It really has to end tonight.