You’ve just been hanged for a crime you didn’t commit. “Don’t despair,” someone shouted, the last sound you would ever hear, as the trapdoor opened. “There’s an appeal in.”
So Wes Brown’s name is cleared. The trapdoor opened long ago; the corpse of Sunderland’s defeat at Stoke has already been moved to the plot reserved for burials of the executed. Exhumation, and a proper place of rest, won’t bring back Wes’s second half at the Britannia any more than a posthumous pardon or acquittal will restore life to the hanged man.
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.
All Sunderland supporters, and all followers of football with a shred of common sense and fairness, will hope – and pray, if they pray – the club succeed in the appeal against Wes Brown’s staggering unjust dismissal at Stoke City.
Wedgewood and Minton, Doulton, Moorcroft and Twyford. All names associated with the Potteries. Now after his performance at the Britannia we can add Kevin Friend’s name to the list. Not so much pottery but potty. His decision to show Brown a red has been widely criticised by all and sundry – though maybe not Mark Hughes – but even Charlie Adam trying hard not to criticise the ref seemed embarrassed in his post match interviews. Peter Sixsmith has endured some disappointing days indulging in his love of sport but events in Brisbane and Wembley were just a precident to another frustrating day watching the Lads in red and white, even if this time they were in blue and yellow.
A DISMAL SATURDAY IN STAFFORDSHIRE
Dismal Saturdays at Stoke happen with monotonous regularity.
If I wanted a cheap laugh, I could say every week, but we’ll pass on that one.
The last few seasons in the Potteries have been fairly dismal. There was an awful 0-0 draw last season which was little better than Wearside League football. We won the year before on a day that was so cold that even the long suffering Stokies, accustomed as they are to watching football on top of a hill in a ground with only one filled in corner, had icicles on their moustaches. And that was only the women.
The year before that, on another nippy day, we contrived to throw away a game that should have been wrapped up long before City equalised and there have been occasions where both Fulop and Gordon have frozen literally and metaphorically at the sight of 6’4” midfielders bearing down on them. Not a happy hunting ground then.
To say that our cause wasn’t helped by the ineptitude and idiocy of Kevin Friend is like saying that the Heads of the Co-op Bank and Toronto’s Mayoral Office have nothing in common. Kev played a blinder, aided and abetted by his assistant, who also played a major part in “The Most Ridiculous Sunderland Sending Off Since Michael Turner at Manchester City” episode – a decision which was not only not overturned but earned an extra game ban for a “frivolous” appeal.
The assistant had given a ludicrous free kick against Brown for a non-existent foul on Jonathan Walters in the twelfth minute. The ball had been won, Walters had gone down with no expectation of a free but the assistant flagged for a foul. There was a widespread shaking of heads and cries of “I say, what a strange decision” from the Sunderland fans stuck in the corner, but the die had been cast or, as they probably still say in the Six Towns, “the clay had been placed on the wheel”. Twenty odd minutes later, and a goal down, Brown made the kind of challenge that he has been making since he was a nipper in Longsight and for which he is renowned. He won the ball, caught Charlie Adam a glancing blow on the ankle before coming away with the ball.
Enter the pantomime villain, Kevin Friend. Clearly influenced by the previous “foul”, he looked, thought and then, to the incredulity of the Sunderland team, bench and support, pulled out a red card and off went Wesley. Uproar from the Sunderland connections – amazement from the Stokies who could hardly believe their luck as one of the obstacles to their first win in 9 departed the field. Now, others may say that we were a goal down to a well taken goal that exposed our defensive frailties, so ultimately, the dismissal made little difference to the outcome. Others (include me in this group) would say that 11 v 10 for an hour is difficult.
Giaccherini, who had been playing well, went off and Roberge filled the gap at the back. He had a good game, looked a decent acquisition and could be a Di Fanti success story – although a certain Italian may disagree. But we didn’t really threaten the Stoke goal. They had a solid group of four at the back and a solid group of four in front of them and despite the best efforts of Adam Johnson, who I thought had an outstanding game, there was no way through.
Fletcher did much better when he wasn’t the lone striker and could have put us ahead in the first half after a superb ball by Johnson put him behind Shawcross. He was not able to get the ball down and Bergovic blocked it. That was the first of two blocks by Bosnia-Herzegovina’s No. 1. The second, also involving Fletcher, could have been a penalty, a sending off and an equaliser. Mr Friend gave nothing. TV replays suggest that he was less wrong on that one than he was on his earlier decision.
N’Zonzi, Stoke’s best player, wrapped it up in the 81st minute and we trooped back to the coach with a number of grievances some imagined but most real. We had played well in the opening twenty minutes, continuing the passing and pressure game that we had practiced against City in the previous game. The opening goal showed our deficiencies in that we did not pick up either N’Zonzi or Adam and Stoke probably had the better of the game after that – not surprising as all but 5 minutes of it were played with a man down.
The red card was thrown into perspective when I saw the tackle that Kevin Mirallas made on Luis Suarez. If Brown’s was a red card, the Belgian’s was worth three: it was high, studs up and caught the player, none of which applied to Brown. Phil Dowd may have been wrong but not anywhere near as wrong as Kevin Friend.
It wrapped up a dismal day which started as I awoke to hear David Warner smashing the England bowling around the Gabba and continued with Jonathan Trott’s eight ball nightmare as I drove to the coach pick up point. It got worse as New Zealand scored the winning try with a mere 20 seconds left to get to the Rugby League World Cup Final and break England’s hearts. Next week’s final will be an antipodean affair with Australia. Then we heard that Palace had won at Hull and we were back propping the rest up. We are still in touch with the other relegation candidates, but we need to start winning games against them. I would have swapped the wins against Newcastle and Manchester City for similar against Hull and Stoke, both of whom will be looking over their shoulders all season.
And to add to the crushing sense of disappointment, the Football Echo announced its closure at the end of this year. The real end of an era. I suspect there may be a nostalgia ridden piece later in the week.
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.
Liverpool fans are fuming at the suggestion that blameless young Spearing had anything other than the Corinthian spirit in mind when he tumbled in the box some distance from where his path and Mensah’s crossed. They’ll take some comfort from Pete Sixsmith‘s even-handed analysis, balancing bitter disappointment at a worrying Sunderland performance with some admiration for the Reds’ progress under Dalglish …
Three things to say about yesterday’s game: Liverpool were the better side, the penalty decision was a disgrace and we are beginning to get a wee bit worried.
First things first, Liverpool deserved their win. They defended well with Skrtl and Agger outstanding and Suarez always looked a danger. His goal was very well taken and he caused problems for our defenders, Mensah in particular. In midfield they looked tight and well organized with Kuyt having his usual solid game. He’s a good player – reliable and sound.
Salut! Sunderland, while not caring enormously about international football, congratulates Darren Bent on his England call-up. Good for him, brings a little reflected glory to the club and may yet prove more meaningful than SuperKev’s inclusion in unSuperKev’s Euro 2000 squad. But there is unfinished Bent-related business. What was that about eating our words? Colin Randall prepares the dish, chooses the wine and sets the table …
Salut! is now officially split on the issue. In his excellent review of Saturday’s events at White Hart Lane, Pete Sixsmith said the penalty was right and so was the yellow, since red would have been harsh.
I finally saw the footage late last night. I still believe Gomes made a rash dive at Bent’s feet and that it was therefore a penalty waiting to happen. Except that Darren didn’t wait, and it – the foul – didn’t happen.
Fair’s fair. With the hindsight not available to most fans – or any referees – when controversial incidents actually occur, Salut! Sunderland accepts that Kevin Friend got the penalty about right. A slightly reckless challenge, but not one that merited a red card. Some SAFC fans go further and echo Spurs supporters (not all) by calling it a dive, even if they also feel it was a penalty “about to happen”. Friends again, Kevin? More on all this later but first Pete Sixsmith delivers his own considered post-match verdict …
A six hour coach journey after a scarcely deserved defeat does an awful lot to concentrate the mind. Somewhere in the middle of the old Great North Road, probably between Newark and Retford, I suffered a terrible attack of fairness, not something usually associated with disappointed Sunderland fans.