Not sure if Mike Riley has yet made his call to Gus Poyet with abject apologies for a howler that has made Sunderland’s desperate battle against relegation all the harder. Nor is it clear whether Kevin Friend has been man enough to send Poyet his own mea culpa.
But the signs are growing that Friend’s latest disgraceful decision to Sunderland’s disadvantage, the sending off of Wes Brown for – as the Telegraph wittily put it – “kicking the ball with unnecessary force” has not gone unpunished.
The BBC says Friend has been excluded from the next two Premier League programmes. If so, and he is allowed back to ruin some other game after that, his “suspension” will be one match fewer than the ban faced by a key figure in Sunderland’s bid for salvation.
But the BBC also said the FA was likely to overturn the laughably wrong card, freeing Brown for an immediate return to action.
We’ll see. I have no idea what basis the Beeb has for such a report. It won’t change the fact that Sunderland lost, of course.
None of us can say for sure the result would have been any different with 11-a-side. But a game that looked possible to save and even to win was put a little bit farther beyond Sunderland’s grasp. The relaxed view Friend later took of Begovic’s astonishing airborne lunge at Fletcher, when a penalty and red card seemed the correct response, aggravated his earlier ineptitude.
Even the Stoke Sentinel ran a report under the headline “Extra-time: Stoke City profit from double standards” that stated: “Wearing a neutral’s hat for just one moment, it’s difficult to justify Brown walking and Begovic staying. If Brown was guilty of an over-exuberant challenge to earn red for his largely clean tackle on Charlie Adam in the first half, then surely Begovic was guilty of something similar in his own area in the second?”
We all make mistakes at work, as I often say. That is the only mitigation I can muster for Stoke’s Friend.