Stoke slipped to their sixth straight away defeat with a 2-0 loss to Sunderland at the Stadium of Light this afternoon. Controversial referee Rob Styles was once again at the centre of the action, denying Sunderland two clear penalties before sending off Stoke winger Matthew Etherington mid-way through the second half. With a man advantage, the Black Cats were able to succeed where Manchester City failed a week ago, and put paid to Stoke with two late goals, the first coming through former Stoke player Kenwyne Jones and David Healy adding a second that put a gloss on the scoreline that was perhaps harsh on Stoke.
Stoke manager Tony Pulis made three changes to the side that beat Manchester City, bringing in newest signing Stephen Kelly, who joined on loan from Birmingham on Wednesday in the left-back position in place of Danny Pugh, replacing AmdyFaye with the fit-again Salif Diao in the centre of midfield and the suspended Sunderland old-boy Rory Delap with Richard Cresswell, who tries hard. Pulis also named a strong bench, featuring the likes of new signing Henri Camara, Ibrahima Sonko and Pugh, all of whom were called on in the first half hour as Stoke players suffered a string of injury blows.
Stephen Kelly in action during his less than impressive debut
Pulis’ Sunderland counterpart, Ricky Sbraigia, opted to leave his two newest signings, centre-backs Tal Ben Haim and Calum Davenport on the bench while Djibril Cisse was fit enough to partner Jones in attack despite limping off with an injured ankle in Sunderland’s1-1 derby draw with Newcastle six days earlier.
It was the home side who forced the first real chance of the game, Jones picking up the ball inside the Stoke half and embarking on a winding run that saw him engineer a good shooting opportunity on the edge of the penalty area. Former Sunderland hero Thomas Sorensen in the Stoke goal was equal to his left-footed strike though, beating it away from danger. The Potters came close to taking the lead shortly after however, after a set-piece caused chaos in the Sunderland box, Cresswell attempted an acrobatic overhead kick, making surprisingly impressive contact with the ball but sending it narrowly wide of Marton Fulop’s goal.
Stoke were then forced into making three substitutions in quick succession, with Andy Wilkinson, Ryan Shawcross and Ricardo Fuller all limping off injured, to be replaced by Pugh, Sonko and Senegalese debutant Camara respectively.
The major talking point of the half came with ten minutes remaining, portly Sunderland winger Andy Reid picking out midfielder Steed Malbranque unmarked at the far post with a pin-point cross. The Frenchman seemed to have just a simple finish left, but saw his header clearly handled off of the goal-line by Pugh. Specsavers voucher in one hand, red card in the other primer for action, Styles inexplicably refusing to award the penalty and instead signalling a goal-kick for Stoke. While I would definitely rather not have seen Stoke concede, I can only wonder how such basically incompetent refereeing passes from Styles week in week out without his demotion or outright sacking.
Pugh keeps the scoreline level with a superb ”headed” clearance
Incensed by the decision, Sunderland pushed on in an ultimately futile attempt to score before half-time, Danny Collins coming closest, his header being cleared off the line, legitimately this time, by Kelly, one of the few good points from a poor debut for him.
Sunderland continued to be the better side into the second half, enjoying a lot of possession in the first twenty minutes, but failing to force Sorensen into a save. The game seemed to be heading towards a goalless finish, a result that would have been quite decent for Stoke when Stlyes struck again in the 65th minute. Camara broke down the left wing, with a promising situation developing in the centre of the pitch. Camara’s Stoke teammate Etherington was nudged by Collins off the ball, though Camara retained possession of the ball in a good attacking position. Any man with half as many brain cells as Wayne Rooney would have been able to realise that it was an appropriate time to apply the advantage rule, but this is Rob Styles we are talking about. Styles having broken up the play to award Stoke the free-kick, and Etherington frustrated, the winger kicked out at Collins, an offence for which he rightly saw red. Styles’s blatant ineptitude apart, it was a stupid, unprofessional thing for Etherington to do, and possibly cost us a vital point, as we were outplayed by Sunderland after his sending-off. It was the fourth sending off of a Stoke player in the last six weeks, and the third for an offence of petulant dissent, an aspect to our play that must be ironed out post haste.
Etherington sees red
Shortly after Rory Delap’s dismissal last week, Stoke took the lead and nearly repeated the trick today. From the free-kick that had been awarded for the original foul on Etherington, a goalmouth scramble resulted in the ball dropping freely to Camara twelve yards out. He lashed at the ball where a cooler head was needed though, and saw it bounce back off the crossbar, to the frustration of the travelling Stokies, denied a dream start to life at Stoke.
With a man advantage, Sunderland sensed all three points were on the horizon and pressurised the Stoke rearguard, Cisse and Carlos Edwards both going very close from volleys from tight angles withing two minutes of each other. The deadlock, along with Stoke’s resolve, finally was broken withtwelve minutes to play, Reid finding Jones with a deep cross and the Trinidad and Tobago forward heading low past Sorensen, who having got a hand to the ball arguably should have done better.
A man light and a goal down, the Potters offered disappointing little by the way of a late siege on the Sunderland goal, and it was in fact the home side who added to their winning margin late on. Jones shook off Stoke captain Abdoulaye to get in behind the Potters’ defence, finding Healy with his cut-back, the Northern Ireland striker scoring his first goal in many a month with an easy finish at the back post after beating Kelly to the ball.
Jones gives Sunderland the lead and Healy adds the gloss
The game finished a disappointing and rather flattering 2-0 to Sunderland, though with all of the bottom five losing, Stoke retained their seventeenth place in the table. Next up is a hugely important home game against Tony Adams’s struggling Portsmouth side, who lost 3-2 to Liverpool today, in two weeks time, though today’s performance wasn’t bad, hopefully we can go that bit further and claim another home win then.
Stoke side: (4:4:2)
Wilkinson Shawcross Abdoulaye Faye Kelly
Cresswell Whelan Diao Etherington
Substitutions: Pugh for Wilkinson (18), Sonko for Shawcross (26), Camara for Fuller (30)
Subs Not Used: Simonsen, Lawrence, Olofinjana, Kitson