SUNDERLAND dropped back to the bottom of the Championship by losing a relegation tussle with Bolton last night and Chris Coleman was more than happy to blame referee David Coote.

Coleman was left urging his players to keep believing they can get out of trouble with 13 matches remaining after an improved performance that was still not enough to prevent a fourth defeat from the last five games.

But the Sunderland manager could not hide his frustrations afterwards after watching replays of the big decisions that led to Bolton take the lead in the 17th minute through Zach Clough.

The Trotters forward arrived at the near post to flick Filipe Morais’ free-kick in with more than a hint of handball, even though Sunderland goalkeeper Lee Camp should still have done more to stop it.

Coleman said: “We get a throw in given to us by the referee, the linesman flags and says no it’s handball by Billy Jones even though he was off the pitch. I am saying it after I have looked at it and looked at it.

“From the resulting free-kick there’s a handball and it ends up in the net and the goal is given. So you can’t blame us for being slightly frustrated at decisions like that and I thought he was indecisive all night.

“In terms of our performance I thought it was a bit more like it from us. We didn’t put the ball in the net but that’s a lack of confidence. I thought we had a bit of bite about us. They scored from the first chance and we dictated the play really after that.

“I never ever make excuses for my players if we deserve to lose matches but I don’t think we deserved to lose this here. The referee got it drastically wrong on both points.

“I wasn’t looking at Camp when I watched it back, it’s a tough one to comment on that (Camp) because I am looking at the guy throwing his hand at the ball. You saw the reaction of our players.”

That goal proved the difference and means Bolton are seven points clear of bottom club Sunderland in the battle for survival. Coleman’s side are three adrift of safety ahead of Saturday’s visit of Middlesbrough to the Stadium of Light.

Bolton boss Phil Parkinson said: “I haven’t seen the goal back yet. I can’t comment. If we had a bit of good fortune then the people who follow Bolton will say it’s long overdue.”

He added: “Nothing will be decided on this game but with Sunderland below us it was a huge win. We had to work so hard for it, Sunderland gave everything. We had to dig really deep.

“You would be crazy not to look at the table now, we are aware of the situation. We knew this was an important game for us. Tonight the onus was on us, people expected us to win and we handled the pressure.”

Before a ball had been kicked last night Coleman had stressed the importance of gaining a result in what he described as the “biggest game of the season”. He has now won just four of the 17 matches he has been in charge of, with people appreciative of the mess he inherited.

Coleman, knowing there are 13 matches remaining, said: “It’s another one gone now, there’s probably four teams now and we have to keep it that way now.

“We can’t let anyone else get away from us. We are sitting bottom tonight, we are at home on Saturday and Saturday is the biggest game of the season for us.

“The next one is always the biggest. We missed the chance to pick some points up.

“We have been in the bottom three for a while, it can be soul destroying but it is still there for us. You can turn a corner and we have to keep believing.

“I know the players can deliver more performances like that out there and we have to keep believing, it’s as simple as that.

“The fans will follow us if they get everything from the players and if they see a performance like that here, home or away, then they can take that.”