AT a time when Portsmouth hope to have a High Court winding-up order halted against them, it was predictable that the match official embarked on his own quest to wind up supporters, players and managers alike.
The red cards of Ricardo Rocha, Lee Cattermole, David Meyler and even Pompey boss Avram Grant flowed, painting their own sorry tale, but the controversy also prevented Sunderland from ending their long search for a win.
It was rarely pretty and bottom club Portsmouth perhaps deservedly clinched a point in injury-time through Arun Dindane after referee Kevin Friend had finally calmed down.
But regardless of the dismissals, it will be Dindane's equaliser that will matter most this morning. The all-too rare satisfaction of victory was taken away once again for Steve Bruce and his players.
From the moment Rocha was sent-off for bringing down Darren Bent, who then struck the opener from the penalty spot, Sunderland should have cruised to only their second away win in 23 Premier League matches.
It was not as straight-forward as that, though.
Portsmouth rallied, particularly after Grant's moment of madness, and had three decent shouts for penalties waved away.
And when Cattermole, redcarded for two bookings in six minutes, was followed when substitute Meyler was dismissed for an elbow just a minute after coming on, Dindane finally delivered to heighten Wearside's relegation fears.
If Sunderland fans think they have problems, spare a thought for Portsmouth supporters.
With the threat of either administration or liquidation hanging over their heads, Grant is charged with trying to lift them off the foot of the table.
There was almost a sense among the home crowd that last night's result was not the outcome which mattered most, with today's scheduled trip to the High Court the most crucial.
But for all of Portsmouth's troubles, it was imperative that Sunderland didn't underestimate them just weeks after being dumped out of the FA Cup at Fratton Park.
Rocha gave them a helping hand, which proved the start of the barracking of the official.
After an edgy start from both, Kenwyne Jones helped a long ball into the path of Bent.
The England striker, faced with just David James to beat, was knocked to the floor inside the area by Rocha. After Friend dismissed the Portugal defender, having mistaken Hassan Yebda for the guilty party first, Bent struck low into James' bottom right corner.
Bruce had talked about the need for confidence in the build up to the game and the £10m man's 16th goal of the season certainly offered hints of that.
There might have been a vital save to make from Craig Gordon's left leg after Dindane's trickery in the penalty area created a glaring opportunity.
Sunderland, though, did most of the early pressing.
With Rocha dismissed, Sunderland occasionally picked out the holes in the Portsmouth half.
The right side was particularly spacious. When Jones found Steed Malbranque unmarked on the flank, the winger chipped to the back post for Bent to rise above his marker and head over.
That was all Sunderland could muster before the break, with Portsmouth unfortunate not to be level. Gordon was not tested again, but both Jamie O'Hara and Papa Bouba Diop had shots fly dangerously wide.
The Portsmouth fans felt the referee failed to come down hard on Sunderland's tough tackling, and the home fans' frustrations actually spurred their team to life.
And when Matthew Kilgallon appeared to help Dindane to the floor in the area, followed moments later by Lorik Cana's tackle on the striker, Pompey boss Grant had seen enough.
His on-field remonstrations with the man in the middle earned him a seat in the stands for the second half, but his actions helped to keep his players' minds firmly focused on a result.
From that moment on it was more about keeping the referee happy, but Cattermole failed to heed the warnings.
Six minutes after picking up a booking for an innocuous trip, he was issued with a second for a foul on Angelos Basinas.
But Friend was soon back in the bad books with the Portsmouth support, after he could easily have handed them two penalties, firstly when Kilgallon dived in on Dindane and then when George McCartney went shoulder to shoulder with Frederic Piquionne.
Sunderland survived and should have extended their advantage, but Bent showed too much to James when he was put through again by Jones. The striker was also inches away from converting a Bent cross at the back post.
But after teenager Meyler was shown red in the closing stages, it paved the way for a late Pompey onslaught and Dindane somehow rose unmarked at the back post to head in a late, late equaliser.
Matchfacts Goals: Bent (12mins, 0-1); Dindane (90, 1-1) Bookings: Finnan (24, foul); Dindane (30, dissent); Cattermole (48, foul) Sending-offs: Rocha (9, professional foul); Cattermole (54, second bookable offence); Meyler (86, violent conduct) Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicester) 2 Attendance: 16, 242 Entertainment:
PORTSMOUTH (4-4-2): James 7; Finnan 6 (Webber 89), Ben-Haim 6, Wilson 6, Rocha 4; Yebda 6 (Belhadj 78), Basinas 5, Diop 5 (Kanu 75), O'HARA 8; Piquionne 4, Dindane 7. Subs (not used): Ashdown (gk), Mullins, Owusu-Abeiye, Hughes.
SUNDERLAND (4-4-2): Gordon 7; Hutton 7, Turner 7, Kilgallon 7, McCartney 7; Malbranque 6 (Zenden 45, 5), Cattermole 4, Cana 6, Reid 6 (Meyler 85); JONES 8, Bent 6 (Bardsley 89). Subs (not used): Carson, Zenden, Da Silva, Benjani, Liddle.
MAN OF THE MATCH KENWYNE Jones was superb at the back and in the final third.