Its heard a lot, and is becoming an accepted excuse for poor refereeing, but the old "these things even themselves out" line offers little comfort to Sunderland supporters forced to endure yet another poor refereeing display against Aston Villa on New Year’s Day. Far too often chants of "you’re not fit to referee" ring out from the Sunderland fans, so here are some of the key incidents we’ve witnessed this season.
Sunderland 1 – 3 Arsenal (Martin Atkinson)
A mixed bag for Atkinson in this one. Firstly giving a penalty for Sunderland shortly after half time following a foul on Adam Johnson by Koscielny. However, when Jozy Altidore was sent through on goal, with Sunderland only a goal behind, and was able to shrug off the foul by Sagna, before calmly slotting past Szczesny in the Arsenal goal, Atkinson pulled the play back to award the free kick on the edge of the area for the hosts, preventing Altidores first Premier League goal for the club. Paolo Di Canio wasn’t too happy either, saying to Atkinson, "if you want to complete a perfect job, you send me off". The mad Italian hasn’t been seen on the touchline at the Stadium of Light since.
Hull City 1 - 0 Sunderland (Andre Marriner)
Lee Cattermole’s first card of the season came in his sixth start, when he was dismissed in first half stoppage time for a tackle on Ahmed Elmohamady. Fans seemed split on this one, with some agreeing with the decision. Personally, I thought it was slightly harsh given the minimal contact, but what annoyed fans most was the refusal to send off Hull’s Robbie Brady for a worse foul on Adam Johnson in the dying minutes of the game.
Stoke City 2 - 0 Sunderland (Kevin Friend)
Kevin Friend. Not much else needs to be said really. The red card shown to Wes Brown is the worst decision you will see all season, and probably for a long time after. Brown slides in to pass the ball inside, it’s not even a tackle on Charlie Adam, who runs half the pitch before falling. The red baffled everyone and left Poyet doing his best Hulk impression. Steven Fletcher was later kicked in the shoulder by a high, studs up challenge from Asmir Begovic and Friend didn’t even acknowledge it.
Sunderland 1 – 2 Tottenham Hotspur (Lee Mason)
Trailing 2-1 late on, Seb Larsson whipped in a corner, only for Sandro to control with his outstretched arm. Referee Mason waved away all appeals despite having a perfect angle to see the incident.
Everton 0 – 1 Sunderland (Lee Probert)
Probert was spot on giving a penalty for an early foul on Ki, after the midfielder raced through on goal following a mistake by Leon Osman, only to be clipped going past Howard. Probert rightly sent Howard off and Ki slotted home from the spot. However, in a second half which Everton largely dominated, Ondrej Celustka will feel he should have been awarded a second penalty after blatantly being blocked off, but for once Sunderland were able to hold on.
Sunderland 0 – 1 Aston Villa (Mike Jones)
Don’t get me wrong, we were simply awful in this game, but this was arguably the worst refereeing performance over 90 minutes we’ve seen. Giaccherini managed to find the back of the net, only for the linesman to raise his flag, with replays showing it was marginal, but the Italian international did appear to be onside. There were numerous penalty appeals, most for clear handballs, and also one for a trip on Ki, who stayed on his feet despite stumbling. Ki was also on the receiving end of an elbow from Agbonlahor, and, after receiving treatment, was shown a yellow card himself, either for not immediately walking off after the physio came on, or for having a word with Agbonlahor, it wasn’t exactly clear. Mike Jones even had to spin round full circle twice looking for Ki after the physio left the field. Agbonlahor was involved later on after clattering into the back of Jack Colback long after he’d played the ball. Colback then reacted and everyone got in on it, with Jones, who didn’t have any control throughout the game, leaving them to get on with it. Oh, and Villa got the free kick.
Now there are some incidents even the loyalist fans couldn’t argue with, such as the red cards shown to Dossena at Hull and O’Shea at Palace, even if both came at vital times. Nevertheless Sunderland really have suffered from terrible refereeing decisions so far this year, but don’t worry Sunderland fans, we’ll easily achieve Premier League survival with the luck we’re overdue alone. Yeah right…