Everton 2 Sunderland 2: Ball injects spirit into Sunderland's rearguard action

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The Independent Online

Kevin Ball is a novice in football management and four games in charge of a side already on an irreversible course towards relegation is hardly enough time on which to be judged. But the first goals and maiden point of his stewardship suggested he is doing something right.

Whether it counts for anything remains to be seen. Should the Sunderland chairman, Bob Murray, find a buyer for his 56.8 per cent stake in the club, the so-far temporary successor to Mick McCarthy may find himself coaching the Under-18s again. The name of Niall Quinn - as manager, owner or both - continues to dominate speculation over who will replace McCarthy in the longer term.

For the moment, however, Ball appears to be making the impact that might have been predicted from one of the steeliest players to have worn a red and white shirt. A defender reinvented as midfield enforcer under Peter Reid, the 41-year-old became a cult figure on Wearside and clearly has the capacity to shake up the dressing-room.

Had West Brom beaten Liverpool on Saturday Sunderland would already be relegated. But there was plenty of spirit on show on Saturday as they almost stole an unlikely win. And Ball can still set targets, such as finding the seven points needed to avoid taking Stoke's 1984-85 record for the lowest points tally in the top flight since a win became worth three.

Jonathan Stead, for his part, is in no rush to see the season end. In the right place to cancel out Leon Osman's opener for the home side, the 22-year-old for whom McCarthy paid Blackburn £1.8m last summer was scoring his first goal in his 30th appearance.

James McFadden, Everton's best player on a sub-par day, put the visitors behind again only 11 minutes later but Sunderland's Ball-inspired determination not to fold brought reward as Rory Delap thundered home a headed equaliser with nine minutes to go.

Everton almost regained their lead through Phil Neville but Sunderland were not content merely to hang on and when Delap boldly sought to win the game from 30 yards in stoppage time he was unlucky to see a screaming shot come back off a post.

Ball looked to the heavens but he had enhanced his cv in any event. "The club's future is more important than mine but if the opportunity arises for me to do the job then I'll be there," he said. This week may reveal whether that possibility lies in Quinn's court.

Goals: Osman (4) 1-0; Stead (16) 1-1; McFadden (27) 2-1; Delap (81) 2-2.

Everton (4-4-2): Wright; Hibbert, Yobo, Stubbs, Naysmith (Ferguson, 86); Davies (Arteta, 62), Cahill, Neville, Osman; Beattie, McFadden. Substitutes not used: Turner (gk), Weir, Carsley.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Davis; Hoyte, Breen, D Collins, McCartney; Lawrence (Le Tallec, 69), Whitehead, Leadbitter, Delap; Stead (Smith, 84), Brown (D Murphy, 75). Substitutes not used: J Murphy (gk), N Collins.

Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).

Man of the match: Delap.

Attendance: 38,093.

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