Gus Poyet must be considering forfeiting Sunderland's remaining away games this season. His Wearside reign got off to a torrid start with the debacle that was the 0-4 loss at Swansea City, while the trip to Hull three weeks ago saw his side reduced to nine men before the half-time whistle had been blown.
Today, following three successive home wins for the Uruguayan, came the third successive away loss. For once, however the defeat wasn't of the Black Cats' own making. Stoke were indeed leading 1-0 when referee Kevin Friend made the incredible decision to dismiss Wes Brown on the 35 minute mark, but the game was a tight affair and the visitors had shown some promising signs.
The first-half red card changed the complexion of the game entirely. Quite how Friend reasoned it was a foul - never mind a red card offence - is anyone's guess. Brown, having overran the ball, charged into a challenge with Charlie Adam, beat the Stoke man to the ball, sliding in and winning the contest cleanly. No element of a "two-footed challenge", nor anything reckless. Yet, somehow, the referee saw fit to brandish a red, and Gus Poyet (rightly) went apoplectic on the touchline. From there, it was always an uphill struggle for the visitors.
Prior to the incident that will dominate headlines tomorrow, Sunderland started fairly well. Signs of the passing game Poyet wants to employ were in evidence, and the home side were under pressure from a number of corners. As well, Asmir Begovic was forced into a good stop from Steven Fletcher, after a delightful lofted pass from Adam Johnson saw the Sunderland frontman in behind the Stoke defence.
Soon after, Ryan Shawcross was called into a goaline clearance: a bobbling ball in the box almost ended up in the net, with the home captain only just managed to clear the danger.
As time grew on though, Mark Hughes' side began to take a semblance of command. Steven N'Zonzi and Marko Arnautovic both had shots blocked, before Adam put his side ahead just before the half hour.
Though Sunderland switched off, it was a well worked goal. N'Zonzi found himself close to the byline and managed to turn and work the ball into the path of his midfield partner, who cooly slotted home past Vito Mannone. Poyet will be aggrieved that his side failed to track Adam, but the man who would be involved in the controversial dismissal soon after took his chance well.
Brown's sending off completely winded Sunderland, and they winced their way to half-time. After the break, refusing to sit back and look to nick something, the visitors came out with intent to attack, and looked to retain possession.
For much of the second half, the game was an open, flowing contest. Sunderland looked to exert pressure but struggled to get the ball to Fletcher, while Stoke looked dangerous on the break, with Geoff Cameron a particularly potent threat.
Refusing to lie down, Poyet went for broke, bringing on Fabio Borini for Ondrej Celustka. The Black Cats' attacking mindset almost paid off when Adam Johnson's long range effort fizzed just wide of the far post, before another contentious decision brought Friend to the fore once more.
Chasing onto a through ball, Steven Fletcher found himself in a duel for the ball with opposing keeper Begovic. The Stoke stopper decided the best way of winning the ball would be to launch his foot up to head height, knocking the ball away and following through into Fletcher's chest. Dangerous play, surely? But no, Mr Friend somehow reasoned there was nothing wrong with it, and didn't offer a free-kick to Sunderland, never mind a booking (or worse) for Begovic. To rub salt into the wounds, he then booked Seb Larsson for complaining about the blatant double standards on show. Well fucking done, Mr Friend.
From there, Sunderland pushed time and again to little avail, and were hit by the inevitable sucker punch. Breaking from midfield on the counter, N'Zonzi found himself the recipient of a Peter Crouch through ball, and calmly slotted the ball past Mannone to seal the points.
To Sunderland's credit, they refused to give in and showed plenty of heart, without ever really looking like scoring after Brown's dismissal. Stoke saw the game off in a professional manner but, in truth, it was a spectacle ruined by the buffoonery of the referee. We move on.
There'll be more match reaction in our Stream with Player Ratings and more HERE.