Stoke 0-1 Sunderland: McClean great-finish, Huth sent-off
Sunderland's run continued in snowy conditions as they beat 10-man Stoke 1-0 in their Premier League clash at the Britannia Stadium.
Heavy snow fell throughout the game to make football virtually unplayable at times, and a match of few chances was decided when James McClean stumbled through the Stoke defence on the hour mark to lash home past Thomas Sorensen from point blank range.
The victory sees Martin O'Neill's incredible run continue, with the Black Cats now having picked up 22 points from their last 10 matches since the Northern Irishman took the helm.
But Stoke boss Tony Pulis was left furious, perhaps rightly blaming the defeat on the decision to send off Robert Huth for a two-footed challenge at the end of the first half.
Sunderland arrived at the Britannia Stadium level in the table with Stoke on 30 points apiece, but with all the momentum in their favour after amassing 19 of those points in the nine matches since the arrival of O'Neill.
That record made Sunderland the form team of the top flight, but you wouldn't have known it from the early exchanges as Tony Pulis's men controlled the game well.
Yet while the hosts dominated possession, it led to little. The horrendous weather clearly made life difficult for both sets of players, with the ball occasionally drawing to a bizarre halt as it hit a patch of uncleared snow.
The two sides both resorted to speculative long balls up field and occasional pot shots from distance, but with the two sets of defenders clearly up for the challenge there were precious few even of those.
Jermaine Pennant - the best player on the park in the first half - was lively for Stoke up the right flank, and he even got a shot away just before the 10-minute mark only to see it come straight back off the shins of the first defender.
After that efforts were limited, but Sunderland came the closest to breaking the deadlock on the half-hour mark when solid work from Jack Colback made space for Frenchman Stephane Sessegnon to shoot.
His shot fizzed low, just missing the left upright; it was the only true chance of the half, and Thomas Sorensen probably had it covered in any case.
Yet the complexion of the match was changed just a few minutes later when three players left the field. First, the lively Cameron Jerome was replaced by Ricardo Fuller after landing badly in a mid-air tussle with Michael Turner.
Then, just before half-time Rob Huth was given a straight red card for a two-footed challenge on David Meyler. The decision seemed harsh but fair, in the light of recent red card challenges.
Yet it seemed that it would cost Stoke any chance as they effectively lost both Huth and also their most creative player in Pennant, sacrificed as Pulis - furious with the referee - brought on Jonathan Woodgate to plug the defensive gap.
As the second period got under way, Stoke's players endeavoured to make the deficit irrelevant, however.
Pushing forward at every opportunity they tried to take charge of the match, but given their man disadvantage that left Sunderland with chances to break.
The Black Cats almost broke the deadlock on 56 minutes from just such a counter-attack, but successive crosses from Seb Larsson and Colback merely slid across the box.
Just four minutes later Sunderland made up for those missed chances. McClean made a run into the box and should have been closed down by either Woodgate or Ryan Shawcross - but both Stoke defenders, perhaps overly wary of conceding a penalty in the conditions, misjudged their challenges.
That allowed McClean to stumble through, slipping as he did so but regaining his balance in time to slot home from nine yards past the defenceless Thomas Sorensen.
The goal was scarcely merited on the run of play, but as the ball hit the back of the net it seemed there was no way back for Pulis's men.
Not that the Stoke players lay down - far from it - they came forward at every chance, with Fuller causing problems on the left and getting away an excellent shot that drew a fine save from Simon Mignolet on 75 minutes.
Stoke continued to throw everything at their guests, with Rory Delap and Peter Crouch both having chances in the final few minutes.
Sunderland's vigorous defence held firm however, with Kieran Richardson in particular outstanding, as O'Neill's Black Cats continued their astonishing progress up the Premier League table.
Stoke: Sorensen, Wilkinson, Shawcross, Huth, Wilson, Pennant, Whelan, Delap, Walters, Jerome, Crouch. Subs: Begovic, Jones, Fuller, Diao, Whitehead, Shotton, Woodgate //// Sunderland: Mignolet, Bardsley, O'Shea, Turner, Richardson, Larsson, Gardner, Meyler, Colback, McClean, Sessegnon. Subs: Westwood, Bridge, Campbell, Wickham, Ji, Kyrgiakos, Elmohamady