Christmas is usually a time when you can catch The Great Escape on some satellite channel and Sunderland’s might start here.
The odds are still against them. Only three members of Richard Attenborough’s party made it across the German frontiers and only one team, West Bromwich Albion in 2004, has been bottom at Christmas and survived. This was an afternoon on which every team in the relegation zone won but on Wearside they will feel differently about the new year.
Everton were Sunderland’s great hoodoo team and very few making the journey to Merseyside would have contemplated a win against a side that had not lost at Goodison Park for 363 days. “Three points is the best present you can give me,” said Gus Poyet, who since inheriting the chaos left behind by Paolo di Canio has engineered victories over Newcastle, Manchester City, Chelsea, in the Capital One Cup quarter-final, and now Everton. Critically, however, he has been unable to oversee a win against the teams around him.
“I have no explanation for that,” the Sunderland manager said. “We cannot blame anybody but ourselves for that. Against the teams we have to beat, we always do something wrong - we get players sent off, we defend badly, their keeper is man of the match. We have to change that if we are to stay up. There can be no more excuses.”
Poyet remarked that he preferred games that were “not decided by accidents”. This was a case in point only this time the accident was Everton’s and it proved fatal.
Goalkeper Tim Howard took a while to choose where to place his goal-kick and for some reason passed to Leon Osman, who had the tall figure of Ki Sung-yueng bearing down on him. Osman almost trod on the ball, slipped and Howard suddenly found Ki taking the ball past him and, as he did so, took his feet from underneath him.
The moment he did so, Howard punched the turf, he knew precisely what the consequences would be. Osman was immediately substituted, Howard was dismissed.
Because Ki is married to an actress, Han Hye-jin, they have inevitably been referred to as “South Korea’s Posh and Becks”. They have not yet launched their own brand of perfume but Ki’s penalty carried a Beckham-like certainty about it.
It was Sunderland’s first goal away from home since August and they had not beaten anyone outside the North East since January when they won at a Wigan side managed by Roberto Martinez.
For a time Everton were seized by panic and for about four minutes they were down to nine men when Kevin Mirallas disappeared to the dressing room, probably to go to the loo.
Martinez brought on Ross Barkley and with every shot he came closer to breaking through a Sunderland defence that coped manfully without the former Manchester United pairing of Wes Brown and John O’Shea.
The key figure was Vito Mannone, who palmed away a shot at full stretch from Bryan Oviedo and then denied Barkley, while Fabio Borini cleared off the line. By the time the final whistle went, the game resembled another film from the 1960s, not The Great Escape but The Alamo.