They were trying very hard at Everton to argue that they were not favourites for Saturday's FA Cup semi-final. The club's assistant manager, Steve Round, pointed out that Liverpool's history and tradition would count for plenty at Wembley, leading one journalist to remark that, if history and tradition were everything in the FA Cup, Old Etonians would be favourites most seasons.
"A semi-final at Wembley is a one-off," Round replied. "And a local derby is one-off; put those together and there will always be that element of FA Cup fate." Nevertheless, in terms of momentum, form and even mental attitude, Everton will travel to London in vastly better shape than their neighbours from across Stanley Park.
It is hard to imagine how yesterday afternoon could have run much better for David Moyes' side. He had rested five players who are likely to feature in the semi-final, several of their understudies made a serious case for their inclusion and there were no injuries. Almost as an aside, it was their biggest margin of victory in the Premier League since Hull were crushed 5-1 in March 2010.
The catalyst for this victory was Steven Pienaar, who is on loan from Tottenham Hotspur and Cup-tied. Nevertheless, though the South African may technically still be on the books at White Hart Lane, Round was surely right to describe Goodison Park as his "spiritual home". Pienaar helped to create two goals and scored another – a brilliant, curling shot from the edge of the area in a remarkable five-minute spell that produced three goals as Sunderland, weary and bewildered, fell unresistingly apart.
The first half gave no indication of what was to follow. Almost nothing happened, aside from one stunning overhead kick from Stéphane Sessègnon, Lee Cattermole's habitual booking and a series of adverts offering a dream holiday skitting across the electronic advertising boards. If you were going to use the Tannoys to propose to your girlfriend, you would have had the stadium's undivided attention.
Nevertheless, Everton exert the kind of hold on Sunderland that a mongoose does on a cobra. They were still playing at Roker Park under the management of Peter Reid the last time Sunderland won at Goodison. And after the interval Everton began to do the hoodoo that they do so well.
On Saturday at Norwich City, Magaye Gueye had been substituted at half-time, in Round's words "so he knows what is acceptable and what is not when you play for Everton". The young French winger had come of age in the FA Cup quarter-final replay at the Stadium of Light and, against the same opponents in a rather less frantic atmosphere, he dazzled once more.
It began with a backward header from Pienaar that was met by a thunderous shot from Leon Osman, which struck Simon Mignolet somewhere between the chest and the shoulder and rebounded to Gueye, who drove his shot between two defenders.
Then came Pienaar's goal and the Sunderland collapse. Osman, a man sometimes unfairly caricatured as a workhorse, took a long ball down on his chest and with three markers around him curled the ball past Mignolet and saw it go in off the post.
Then Pienaar intervened again, slipping away from two defenders and sending in a low cross that Victor Anichebe met with a drive that deflected decisively off Jack Colback. For those who had travelled down from Wearside, there was only silent disbelief and a reminder that Martin O'Neill is merely a very good manager, not a miracle worker. "I didn't need to be beaten by Everton to know that," O'Neill said. "I have a lot of work to do, a lot of work."
Everton: HOWARD 6/10, HIBBERT 7, JAGIELKA 7, FELLAINI 6, HEITINGA 7, NEVILLE 7, McFADDEN 5, OSMAN 7, PIENAAR 8, GUEYE 7, STRACQUALURSI 5
Sunderland: MIGNOLET 6, COLBACK 5, KILGALLON 5, TURNER 5, BARDSLEY 5, VAUGHAN 5, CATTERMOLE 5, GARDNER 5, MCCLEAN5, SESSEGNON 6, LARSSON 4
Scorers. Everton: Gueye 52, Pienaar 75, Osman 76, Anichebe 80
Substitutes: Everton Drenthe 6 (McFadden, 65), Anichebe (Fellaini, 78), Coleman (Neville, 83). Sunderland Richardson 4 (Bardsley, 58), Ji Dong-Won (Cattermole 4, 68), Wickham (Vaughan, 75).
Booked: Everton none. Sunderland Richardson, Cattermole . Man of the match Pienaar. Match rating 6/10. Possession: Everton 60% Sunderland 40%.
Attempts on target: Everton 12 Sunderland 0.
Referee K Friend (Leicestershire). Attendance 32,249.Reuse content