Fellaini saves Toffees from sticky ending

Sunderland 1 Everton 1
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For the full house at Sunderland yesterday, it was all too predictable. Another home goal for Darren Bent, an eighth in 10 Premier League games on Wearside by the sometime England striker, another prolonged retreat deep into home territory, sitting precariously on the lead and inviting another late equaliser, which duly arrived and another hail of boos at the final whistle.

Steve Bruce's side had the perfect chance to arrest their mid-season slide, Bent's peach of a first-half goal having put them in the driving seat against an Everton side also on a run of relegation form. They blew it when Marouane Fellaini cracked home a right-foot shot five minutes from time. Bruce's Black Cats are without a win in six matches now. They have won just once in 10 matches. They remain just the three points ahead of Everton, who are without a win in seven League games.

"The disappointment is that we conceded late again," Bruce lamented. "We tried to protect what we had and just went deeper and deeper and really didn't do our jobs properly, unfortunately. We just need to see one of these games out."

Still, to be fair to Everton, after Bent had squandered an early header, the visitors forced Sunderland back in the opening 20 minutes. David Moyes' men fashioned a trio of clear chances in quick succession, Leon Osman curling a side-footed shot off the outside of the right post and Louis Saha firing a shot on the turn narrowly wide and then steering a low drive across the face of the home goal.

Rather than subduing Sunderland, it stirred them to life,– spectacularly so. Their 17th-minute goal was something for everyone to savour, save those in blue. It was prompted by a ball from deep by Phil Bardsley and fashioned by some brilliant interplay on the break between Kenwyne Jones and Bent, culminating in the former delivering a perfect pass from the right wing for the latter to plant a header past Tim Howard.

It was Bent's 11th goal of the season and it might have been followed by the 12th had Lucas Neill not rescued his side with a goal-line clearance after the England striker met a neat ball from tight to the right byline from Jordan Henderson with a fist-time shot. At that stage Everton were rocking but they came out firing after the internal, with Fellaini and Saha both narrowly off-target.

The Toffees did have to rely on their American goalkeeper for getting them out of one sticky second-half situation, Howard stretching to tip over a header by Sunderland's Paraguayan defender Paulo da Silva in the 68th minute.

It came as little surprise, though, when Fellaini struck the equaliser, pouncing on a right-wing cross from Tony Hibbert.

Attendance: 46,990

Referee: M Atkinson

Man of the match: Pienaar

Match rating: 5/10