Cahill adds to Bruce's defensive headaches

Everton 2 Sunderland 0
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The Independent Football

Steve Bruce may have recently spent his time demonstrating his angst regarding Kenwyne Jones and Liverpool's pursuit of him, but this encounter again proved that it is his workforce at the other end of the pitch that remain the true cause of his sleepless nights.

There are now 18 goals in the against column from Sunderland's last six Premier League encounters, and that will be a telling statistic when they look back on this season and wonder exactly how Europa League promise turned into relegation worry.

"I seem to be like a long-playing record at the moment – it is simply too easy," Bruce lamented. "They had two kicks up the pitch really, and we defended as we have been doing and that has been our Achilles' heel of late. Our next two games will define our season."

It was probably a good job that this one did not, as Sunderland's display was worryingly bereft of hope and resolve, much to Everton's glee.

Everton's injury situation has rightly been referred to as the leading cause of their indifference in the first half of this season but the inability of Marouane Fellaini and Tim Cahill to hit the peaks they did last term has also been a distinct factor.

However, both have finally woken up during the last few weeks and never more so than here, when Cahill steered home Fellaini's cross while under no pressure from Sunderland's defenders after seven minutes.

The visitors' lack of impact was to become a theme. They looked ineffective at best and downright bored at worst, and few were surprised when Landon Donovan, the on-loan LA Galaxy striker, opened his Everton account 12 minutes later in what was to prove an otherwise strangely subdued opening half.

Jones had come on as replacement for Kieran Richardson in the first half but, if this was his big audition, he had misplaced his lines. He also misplaced a glorious opportunity when he flailed unconvincingly at a Bolo Zenden effort. Rafa Benitez will not have been purring in admiration after that.

After the break, Donovan had a glorious chance to claim a second but George McCartney cleared impressively off the line, while at the other end Jones endured another howler when he nearly hit the corner flag with an attempted shot. Everton's fans sang "Rafa, Rafa, sign him up" and Sunderland's supporters sang the same song. It was the only thing that they'd had to laugh about all evening.

"We are beginning to get some momentum and we have keep that going now," said the Everton manager, David Moyes, after his side extended their run to eight unbeaten league games. "But it's difficult to see what our target is until we start to win some more games," he added.

Everton (4-5-1): Howard; Neville, Heitinga, Distin, Baines; Donovan (Arteta, 75), Fellaini, Osman, Pienaar, Cahill; Saha (Vaughan, 77). Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Bilyaletdinov, Senderos, Anichebe, Coleman.

Sunderland (4-5-1): Gordon; Mensah, Nosworthy (Da Silva 60), Kilgallon, McCartney; Henderson, Cattermole (Reid, 46) Cana, Zenden, Richardson (Jones, 25); Bent. Substitutes not used: Fulop (gk), Malbranque, Campbell, Meyler.

Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).

Man of the match: Cahill.

Attendance: 32,163.