Life's a beach for jubilant Bruce & Sunderland
Sunderland boss Steve Bruce described his touchline clash with Rafael Benitez as "handbags'' after Darren Bent's controversial goal delivered a fresh blow to Liverpool's title hopes.
The Black Cats won courtesy of Bent's eighth goal of the season, which flew past Reds goalkeeper Jose Reina after hitting a beach ball which had been thrown on to the pitch from the Liverpool fans. Bruce later revealed he had been told the goal should have been disallowed and a drop ball awarded, but he was not allowing that to spoil his night.
He said: "Listen, I thought it was a deflection off a player. I have to say when I have just seen it there, if anybody knew that rule - that it is supposed to be a drop ball - then you are a saddo. They have got it on telly with the guy who threw it on and it's got Liverpool crests all over it. What a shame.''
Opposite number Rafael Benitez was philosophical when asked about the incident. He said: "It's a very technical question. It could be a goal, it's difficult to say. In this case, it has to be a goal. These things can happen in a lot of games. It was a bad situation for us - it was in the middle [of the goal] and it was very influential. But we didn't play well, that is the main thing for me.''
Bruce, who saw Kenwyne Jones and Lee Cattermole both carried off injured, became embroiled in a furious touchline debate with Benitez when the Spaniard apparently complained about the length of time for which Jones was treated on the pitch.
However, Bruce had calmed down by the time he conducted his post-match press conference. Bruce said: "It was handbags. It's all over, it's done. You do things in the heat of the moment which, when you look back at it, you think, 'Maybe I shouldn't have done that', but there you go.''
Benitez gave his point of view, and suggested Bruce had inflamed the situation. The Liverpool boss said: "I didn't have any argument with him [Bruce]. I was just asking for time because three or four times they were on the ground - in 10 minutes, three or four times, the game was stopped.
"I was talking with the fourth official and he [Bruce] was coming and he wanted to argue with me. I was surprised because I was talking with the fourth official about the time.''
The pivotal moment in the match came when Bent met Andy Reid's fifth-minute cross and fired towards goal.
Reina looked to have it covered, until the ball hit the beach ball, and to the goalkeeper's horror, span past him and into the net. Liverpool's players protested, but while they could consider themselves unfortunate in that instance, there was little doubt Sunderland deserved to win the game.
On another day, Bent might have claimed at least a hat-trick after repeatedly finding space and time inside the box, and it was mainly thanks to Reina and the woodwork that he did not. By contrast, Liverpool, without the injured Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, offered little as an attacking force until deep into seven minutes of added time when Craig Gordon had to make an excellent double save from Dirk Kuyt and substitute David Ngog.
Bruce said: "I thought we deserved it, I hope that's not just going to be the headline [the goal]. In the second half, we had three one-on-ones - Darren went round the goalkeeper twice, he hit the post and Reina got back and made a great save, Steed (Malbranque) had a wonderful chance and I was just thinking, 'We need to take the second one'.
"But my goalkeeper only had one save to make - it was a good one - and overall, I thought we thoroughly deserved the victory.''
It was Sunderland's first victory over one of the 'big four' since their return to the Premier League, and condemned the title hopefuls to a damaging fourth league defeat in nine games.
Benitez said: "In a normal season, the teams at the top of the table will be winning every single game and that is a big difference. In this case, Chelsea have lost two games and I see a lot of teams at the top of the table losing games. It's bad, but crucial? It depends on the next games.''