In a glimpse into both clubs' future, it was Sunderland's which shone the brighter. Not many years down the road, the confusingly near-namesakes, Michael Branch and Michael Bridges, could be competing for international recognition.
Two 18-year-olds with just two months between their birthdays and similarly glowing prospects, they were both given the chance to unravel a congested contest.
Everton's Branch, a player whose delightful touch has yet to be translated into goals, had the first opportunity to do so, seeing a goal-bound effort deflected onto the bar with his first touch after being summoned from the bench.
Another substitute - and one surprisingly confined to that role - did succeed in levelling the scores, Duncan Ferguson's header doing the necessary. But then it was the turn of Sunderland's Bridges. A gangling youth, blooded at 17 when he scored four times during the club's promotion campaign, he showed startling opportunism to claim the two goals that ended Everton's long unbeaten run in the Premiership.
It was among the best of ways for an old Evertonian to mark his managerial return to Goodison - with a 70th minute substitution that turned into a tactical masterstroke - and Peter Reid was suitably aglow afterwards.
On top of the collectively workmanlike display of his side, Reid also had a special thank-you for his goalkeeper. The Frenchman, Lionel Perez, was a pounds 200,000 signing as understudy to Tony Coton, who, like other high- profile recruits, Niall Quinn and Paul Stewart, was missing.
Coton, at least, was not missed. Perez coped admirably with anything that Everton could throw at him, although the thought kept recurring that he might have been less comfortable with Ferguson breathing down his neck for the full 90 minutes.
Perez also made a splendid save from Graham Stuart's penalty that may well have denied Everton their chance of rediscovering the assurance that has sustained them since September.
As it was, they deserved no better than they got. Andrei Kanchelskis and Nicky Barmby, to name just two, will seldom have less impact on a match.
"I thought the side that scored seven against Southampton in our last home match deserved another go," said Royle, to explain his selection.
In hindsight, the omission of even a ring-rusty Ferguson was an error - one compounded by the irony that it was Sunderland who had the match- winner on their bench.
"He still came off puffing and panting and still isn't match fit," Royle said by way of explanation. "This match has brought us back down to earth with a bump. We've been very tight, had all the energy we've needed and played with flair, but this shows we are human."
Goals: Russell (54) 0-1; Ferguson (64) 1-1; Bridges (74) 1-2; Bridges (87) 1-3.
Everton (4-4-2): Southall; Barrett, Watson, Unsworth, Hinchcliffe (Short 80); Kanchelskis (Branch, 61), Grant (Ferguson, 52), Parkinson, Speed; Barmby, Stuart. Substitutes not used: Hottiger, Gerrard (gk).
Sunderland (4-4-1-1): Perez; Hall, Scott, Melville, Kubicki; Kelly, Bracewell, Ball, Smith (M Gray 76); Rae (Agnew 82); Russell (Bridges 70). Substitutes not used: Aiston, Preece (gk).
Referee: P Jones (Leicestershire).
Bookings: Sunderland: Bracewell, Ball, Gray.
Man of the match: Perez.
Attendance: 40,087.Reuse content