Throughout a lively, mostly healthy but at times acrimonious debate with Liverpool fans, we have made no attempt to disguise the shortcomings of Sunderland in Sunday’s match.
We have said firmly that we lost not because of bad decisions by match officials but because we could not muster a shot on target for 86 minutes.
And we are generally consistent in our acknowledgement that referees and their linesmen rarely cheat but are as prone as players, managers and fans to human error. Indeed, players make many more errors and these often lead to lost games or lost leads.
But sometimes, a refereeing performance reaches such a level of awfulness that it is right to cry foul.
Step forward our old Friend Kevin, or old Kevin Friend.
Tonight, we learnt that the FA has agreed he was wrong to wave a red card at John Mensah. The match was well lost by then.
But the dismissal – which passed almost without comment in many reports I have seen though there may not even have been a foul, let alone a sending-off offence when Mensah and Luis Suarez merely collided – poured a heap of salt on to the wound Mr Friend, and one of his assistants, Billy Smallwood, had already inflicted.
We will never know of course but bad as we became, I felt the match might have been heading for a goalless draw until the 33rd minute. That’s when the referee inexplicably allowed himself to be overruled by the distant linesman and give a penalty, also against Mensah, for a foul clearly committed – if it was a foul, and there is disagreement there, too – outside the penalty area. As part of the pattern of persecution suffered by the hapless Ghanaian defender, a yellow card was awarded as well as the bogus penalty.
Mr Friend’s handling of the game bore all the hallmarks of a performance influenced by a team who are past masters of get-in-that-ref’s-face tactics.
He also made the extraordinary decision to allow Liverpool both the advantage, which led to an attack being completed and a chance being missed, and then another go, from the free kick the granting and use of the advantage had surely nullified.
We have crossed swords with this referee in the past. He allowed a dreadful challenge by Jermain Defoe, that put Craig Gordon out of the game for a long stretch, to go unpunished. At the other end, although I have admitted that Darren Bent made a meal of Gomez’s challenge, the logical outcome of the referee ruling it was a penalty should have been a red card. At White Hart Lane as at the Stadium of Light, this was evidence of a weak referee. I do not believe for a second that he is dishonest, but he can hardly complain if others reach the exaggerated conclusion that he somehow has it in for Sunderland.
Liverpool still deserved their win and our lot still deserved a thorough pasting for failing remotely to live up to what had billed as a great occasion.
But Mr Friend ought now reduce the volume on his compilation album by Gerry and the Pacemakers and ring up with a public apology to the players, management and supporters of Sunderland AFC. And make immediate plans to ensure that old myth about “evening things up” comes true the next time we meet. If he ropes in Mr Smallwood, from over the Mersey in Cheshire, they can probably make it a conference call.