Match report: Everton's Maroaune Fellaini takes control to sink Sunderland
Everton 2 Sunderland 1
The cobra and the mongoose, the rabbit and the stoat, Sunderland and Everton. It is hard to know quite how Everton came to have such a hold on Sunderland, who had not beaten them in any kind of contest for a decade. The slow decline of the promise with which Martin O'Neill began his reign on Wearside can be dated from defeat to Everton in last season's FA Cup quarter-final.
There were 13 minutes remaining, Sunderland were one up. They had played well and defended with the kind of resilience that suggested they might hold out for their first win at Goodison since 1996. Then the home side swept away those hopes inside three minutes.
They were moments dominated by Maroaune Fellaini. It was the only time the Belgian exerted any real influence on the afternoon but it decided the match. There were three Sunderland defenders in front of him when he received the ball on the edge of the area but he feinted one way and then the other and drilled a shot into the corner of Simon Mignolet's net so surgically that the goalkeeper barely moved.
Then came the visitors' execution. Fellaini's back-heel went through John O'Shea's legs and was intercepted by Nikica Jelavic whose run and finish were irresistible.
"I think Jela needed a goal put on a plate for him at the moment," said Everton's manager David Moyes, who celebrated his 400th Premier League game with his 12th victory over Sunderland.
"He finished it well but this was as close to being put on a plate as any player could possibly have wanted." Sunderland could have expected nothing from this match. In the battle for Premier League points they were in danger of becoming conscientious objectors.
Luis Suarez alone had produced twice as many shots on goal as O'Neill's entire team this season. Sunderland's only victory had come against a Wigan side reduced to 10 men for most of the second half.
They had faced Newcastle for 70 minutes with a man advantage and still did not manage a shot of their own on target. Another encounter with Everton was in truth not a meeting between cobra and mongoose, more hedgehog and lorry.
And yet Sunderland performed so well that their manager could say with some justice that they should have been "out of sight by half-time". O'Neill even described the display as "exhilarating".
Sunderland might have scored twice in the first 10 minute. Steven Fletcher, who hitherto had been the only Sunderland player to have scored in the league, slipped through Stéphane Sessègnon, whose shot struck Tim Howard's splayed legs. Moments later, Fletcher slid his shot inches past Howard's post.
Everton's grip on proceedings slackened further with the loss of Kevin Mirallas due to a hamstring injury. "We were a bit stodgy after he came off," Moyes reflected. "We didn't flow quite as nicely as we have done."
Since his move from Manchester City, Adam Johnson has barely flowed at all but yesterday he showed why bringing him back to the North East was considered such a coup by O'Neill. It was not just his goal but his general play, which included a clearance off the line, that would have encouraged his supporters.
His goal, though, was well taken. Sebastian Larsson's corner was headed out by Jelavic and Craig Gardner lobbed it back into space that created a race between Leon Osman, who has been chosen by England to face Sweden, and Johnson who had not. The race was won by the outcast.
Sunderland said that their midfielder, James McClean, made a personal decision not to wear a shirt with a poppy. He was the only player on either side not to start with one. McClean grew up in a nationalist area of Derry and received death threats after opting to play for the Republic of Ireland.
Everton (4-2-3-1): Howard; Coleman, Jagielka, Heitinga, Baines; Neville (Vellios, 73), Osman; Mirallas (Naismith, 30), Fellaini, Pienaar; Jelavic (Hitzlsperger, 86).
Sunderland (4-4-1-1): Mignolet; Gardner, O'Shea, Cuellar, Rose; Johnson (Vaughan, 84), Larsson, Colback (Wickham, 88), McClean; Sessègnon; Fletcher (Saha, 69).
Referee: Lee Mason
Man of the match: Fellaini (Everton)
Match rating: 7/10
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