First things first. Alan Wiley does not quite fit the “opposition bringing their own referee” syndrome that has afflicted us all season.
This picture does not show him asking Phil Neville how he’d like Everton’s winner to come; it’s not even from tonight’s game.
In the event, the goal was a flukey ball-off-arm affair and, given the extent of advantage gained, should probably have been disallowed. That the Toffeeman owning the arm should be the deeply irritating Andy Johnson somehow made it all the harder to take.
Sunderland have suffered some appalling, result-changing decisions by referees and linesmen this season. If we are relegated, they could yet be the reason we go down, or one of the reasons.
Wiley seemed very eager to make the vast majority of borderline calls in Everton’s favour. Even that doesn’t make him one of the Premiership referees said by Roy Keane to act on the belief that “it’s only Sunderland” and therefore doesn’t matter.
Salut! Sunderland has seen not the slightest sign that these howlers will even themselves out over the season. Think of the games at Liverpool, Reading, Derby and Chelsea, and at home to Villa – and I am sure others – where dreadful decisions have certainly (Reading, Derby, Villa), probably (Blackburn) and possibly (Chelsea, Liverpoool) cost us points.
In not a single game, home or away, has a contentious decision gone our way and brought us a thing. Keano says it would have been harsh to rule out the goal; my membership of the hard-done-by school of gloom persuades me that if the ball had gone past Tim Howard off Kenwyne’s arm, we’d have seen a free kick result, not Everton kicking off one goal down.
On the other hand, Wiley could easily have sent off Stokes for his atrocious first-half gesture (kicking hard at the ball, with the small problem that it was on the ground with Arteta’s head next to it) and Bardsley for a terrible, studs-up lunge at Pienaar when we were trying to get back into the game.
The plain truth is that once again we hardly ever looked like scoring until the frantic last few minutes. That, against a team as good as Everton, does not make us an awful side. But until we show ourselves capable of turning effort and passion into goals, or even good goalscoring chances, we will be hanging on for grim life in a relegation battle we have every chance of losing.