Home » EPL, Latest » Match Report: Stoke 0 Sunderland 1

Until right up to kick-off the giant orange shovels were out. It took two strong men to hulk each of the industrial-sized brushes that removed as much snow as possible off the seemingly unplayable surface.

Pitch markings were dyed blue to combat the white blizzards whirling in from all directions. It was believed by groundstaff that a full-time whistle would not be reached; abandonment certain.

Yet there can be no excuses for Robert Huth’s sending off which proved critical in this match.

Stoke City manager Tony Pulis was adamant in arguing the opposite, revealing that he is likely to make an appeal on Monday morning, but even on a day of inclement weather the German’s lunge on David Meyler could have merited the most extreme of punishments.

His red card, issued by referee Martin Atkinson, was not a meeting of hazardous conditions and gauche feet. It was foolish. Over ice, it was simply dangerous.

“The disappointing thing for me — and it’s becoming more ingrained in the game — is the reaction of the player [Meyler],” Pulis said.

“It’s something Gordon Taylor and the PFA need to get to grips with. Players are falling and rolling around. It’s a game of challenge. We don’t want to take challenges out of the game. We want to be as competitive and fair as we possibly can.

“Robert has pulled away but his momentum has taken him across the ground. The lad [Meyler] has actually played the ball and moved away. It’s disappointing because I don’t think he’s even caught him.

“I’ve seen it a lot this year and it is creeping a lot into the game where players are going down with the intention of getting other players booked or even sent off when they’ve not really been hurt.

“Referees talk about this and that but when players do that, they’re cheating another professional. They’re all part of the same union. I find that a disease we should stamp out as soon as possible.”

With the extra man, Sunderland were afforded enough room for James McClean to secure another victory, their sixth in nine league games; 23 points collected from a possible 30. It has been a remarkable turnaround.

When Martin O’Neill was appointed as manager in December, Sunderland were placed uneasily above the relegation zone, seven points behind Stoke. Now, they are three points ahead and looking at Europe. “We’re a long distance away from that,” O’Neill reasoned. “It has been a great, great run which nobody could have imagined.” It was another test passed for his invigorated side.

O’Neill’s cautious team selection suggested that a draw would satisfy his demands. Even with the numerical advantage, he left Stephane Sessegnon on his own up front. On occasion at the beginning, the Beninese dropped into the hole, yet his manager ushered him forward from the touchline. The player stayed there.

O’Neill’s control on his team is absolute. “The conditions certainly in the last 20 minutes were certainly border line in terms of the game continuing although I never for a minute thought the referee would stop it,” he said. “But I’m delighted with the discipline of everyone. The concentration was tremendous.”

Sunderland were particularly firm in defence. Both of their centre-backs wore short-sleeved shirts; the weather a mere backdrop rather than a focus. John O’Shea and Michael Turner were, indeed, outstanding.

Neither team looked likely to score, however, until that moment came for McClean. The Northern Irish winger was far too bold and clever for Andy Wilkinson, his marker, as he skipped his way into the box and slipped the ball underneath Thomas Sorensen.

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