MARK HUGHES pleaded with referees to give Stoke a chance after seeing his 10 men slip to a narrow defeat at Sunderland.
The Potters boss was aggrieved at match official Robert Madley's decision to book midfielder Steven Nzonzi for a second time in the second half of his side's 1-0 Premier League defeat at the Stadium of Light and accused Jozy Altidore, his victim on both occasions, of making the most of minimal contact.
Hughes, who saw Glenn Whelan and Marc Wilson dismissed during a 5-1 defeat at Newcastle on St Stephen's Day, said: "We are disappointed, obviously, that a performance of real character and desire and determination and no little skill has got no reward.
"Unfortunately on too many occasions this season, we have been hurt by refereeing decisions that have had a marked effect on the outcome of the game. We are talking once again about a situation that I feel was a poor decision from the referee.
"It was difficult for him because I felt the lad Altidore went down very easily looking for an advantage and I felt on the night, too much of that was going on, to be perfectly honest.
"The referee has got to be able to look through that and understand what is happening. He wasn't very good in that regard and, as a consequence, he bought a challenge where there was very minimal contact.
"The lad went down easily and the referee deemed fit to give Steven a second yellow card for that challenge, which is unbelievable from my point of view."
Adam Johnson's 17th minute strike was enough to hand Sunderland a win which, coupled with West Ham's failure to emerge from their trip to Chelsea with an unlikely victory, lifted them out of the bottom three for the first time since August. However, they needed a superb 39th-minute save by keeper Vito Mannone and then six minutes from time, the crossbar to deny Ryan Shawcross an equaliser.
Asked if it felt like a big moment, first-team coach Charlie Oatway said: "Yes, it does. Since we came in, you could see the strain on people's faces in and around the club, and it's such a big achievement for those people as well as the fans and the players."