Seven of the Premier League's bottom eight played this weekend: Sunderland yesterday became the seventh to lose. Considering their knowledge of the others' results, the comfort a home win would bring and the fact that Everton are injury-hit and preparing for an FA Cup final, Sunderland's gutless performance has to rank as lowly as any. It made Gordon Brown look sure-footed.
Everton won by breaking sweat; it is an idea Sunderland's preening "stars" should try. Eight of the starting XI were signed by Roy Keane and he will not be getting that survival bonus if Sunderland play like this in their remaining three matches.
Trips to Bolton and Portsmouth do not hold promise for a team that lost the previous away game 3-0 at West Bromwich Albion and Sunderland's last game of the season is at home to Chelsea. Guus Hiddink can field the pensioners and win on this evidence. Everton had not won away from home in the Premier League in 2009.
"I'd have booed myself off," said the Sunderland manager, Ricky Sbragia. "Fragile, careless, not enough energy, there was not enough effort or desire for me. We had a great opportunity, results went well for us on Saturday, we had a chance to put some daylight between us and the rest.
"But when we conceded the first we fell apart a little. We didn't seem to have a frenzy, have a right go."
So bad was it that Sbragia was asked about the basics: do the players work hard enough? Do they care? "I think they do," he replied. But Sbragia did accept that his and the players' "reputations are on the line – I told them some truths. We cannot rely on others." He added that he thinks Sunderland "will get points". But no fan will be convinced that they can. Sbragia questioned "motivation".
It was dreadful all-round; within it there were lamentable individual displays and this appeared to offer confirmation of local speculation of a fractured dressing room. The chemistry that took Sunderland into the top 10 in October and back again in February has evaporated. Since a 0-0 draw at Arsenal, Sbragia's side have taken four points from 27.
Tim Howard made two token saves in the 90 minutes. The dysfunctional front pair, Djibril Cissé and Kenwyne Jones will attract their share of criticism for that, but the likes of the sulking Kieran Richardson and alleged captain Dean Whitehead deserve every bit as much. Anton Ferdinand is another who needs to look in the mirror.
A slapdash first half passed with chances for Tim Cahill and Jo as Steven Pienaar asserted himself as the most influential creative presence. Three minutes after the interval, Phil Neville swept a 15-yard pass to Jo's feet. The Brazilian does not always use his physique to full effect, but he was still able to hold Ferdinand at bay, turn him and feed Pienaar. "Anton switches off," Sbragia said. Pienaar is not physical either but he restrained Phil Bardsley to poke the ball through the legs of goalkeeper Marton Fulop.
Without ever engendering any momentum, Sunderland produced a Danny Collins header and a Richardson free-kick but even when Cissé was replaced to applause – no handshake with Sbragia – there was no lift in tempo.
Marouane Fellaini almost made it 2-0 on 65 minutes – Ferdinand rescuing Fulop – but after six minutes more Pienaar was given far too much room by Calum Davenport. Pienaar's cross found Fellaini who guided the ball into the far corner.
"I thought we did well enough," said David Moyes, who was polite about the opposition. He had seen Tony Hibbert and Leon Osman fail fitness tests to add to the injury list. "But we just get on with it." Everton are a credit to their manager and vice versa.
The eyes of the bottom eight now turn to Hull City tonight. A flash of competence will shame the rest.
Sunderland (4-4-2) Fulop; Bardsley, Ferdinand, Davenport, Collins; Malbranque (Edwards, 83) Whitehead, Leadbitter, Richardson; Cissé (Healy, 64) Jones. Substitutes not used: Colgan (gk), McShane, Tainio, Ben Haim, Murphy
Everton (4-2-3-1) Howard; Jacobsen (Rodwell, 74) Yobo, Lescott, Baines; Neville, Cahill; Gosling (Castillo, 87) Fellaini, Pienaar; Jo (Saha, 81). Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Agard, Wallace, Vaughan.
Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).
Booked: Sunderland Davenport, Leadbitter, Bardsley; Everton Cahill, Pienaar, Gosling, Saha.
Man of the match: Pienaar.
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