MARK HUGHES hailed the character of his Stoke City players after they had found themselves on the wrong end of yet another controversial red card.
The Potters slipped to a 1-0 defeat at Sunderland after having Steven Nzonzi sent off early in the second half after collecting a second yellow card.
Adam Johnson bagged the game's only goal early on but the main talking point was the dismissal of Nzonzi, who saw red after referee Bob Madley adjudged him to have brought down Jozy Altidore as he looked to break clear.
TV replays showed the Frenchman had made minimal contact on the Sunderland man and Hughes was left to reflect on yet another defeat that was difficult to swallow.
He told stokecityfc.com: "I think we deserved so much more. We're disappointed that a performance of real character, desire, determination and no little skill has gone unrewarded.
"Unfortunately on too many occasions this season we've been hurt by refereeing decisions that have had a marked effect on the outcome of the game - and we're once again talking about a situation that I feel was a poor decision from the referee.
"It was difficult for him because the lad Altidore went down very easily looking for an advantage, and I felt too much of that was going on to be honest.
"The referee has got to be able to look through that and understand what's happening and he wasn't very good in that regard and as a consequence he has bought a challenge where there was very minimal contact.
"The lad has gone down very easily and the referee has seen fit to give Steven a second yellow card for that challenge, which is unbelievable from our point of view."
Johnson scored the game's only goal after 17 minutes as Sunderland capitalised on a flying start but Stoke dominated for long periods after that only to be unable to find a way past the home 'keeper Vito Mannone.
Hughes added: "Apart from 10, 15 minutes in the first half when Sunderland came out of the traps very quickly and we didn't get to grips with their movement and we conceded the goal, I thought we dominated the game with 11 men and arguably even more so with 10 men which shows the character of the group I've got.
"I was really pleased with what we put in tonight but on too many occasions we're having to climb mountains to win football games.
"All we ask that we have a level playing field and the key decisions are made correctly because when two sides go up against each other you want the best side to win and unfortunately the best side didn't win tonight."