Sunderland 0 Everton 1: Johnson's arm does damage to Sunderland hopes of survival

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The Independent Football

As Britain was warned to brace itself for gale force winds and coastal flooding, this was the calm before the storm.

True, once the England forward Andy Johnson had forced home a scrappy goal, Sunderland finished with a degree of bluster. However, there was never a need for either defence to batten down the hatches.

If Everton do go on to take fourth place ahead of Liverpool, then this unimpressive performance is unlikely to evoke memories of a vintage campaign. Viewed in isolation, however, such a narrow away victory could prove pivotal.

"From our point of view it was a good result," a typically cool David Moyes said. "We flew back from Italy on Friday afternoon and travelled up to Sunderland on Saturday. These things can have an effect on players. But my lads are a credit to Everton Football Club and after that result I am confident we are going to stay the distance this season. Of course I'm looking at Liverpool's results because I think it's important in our position."

Moyes would be well advised to keep looking at results, rather than performances, if this is what his diligent but tiring team are promising to serve up between now and the end of the season. It was fitting that a truly dreadful fixture was decided by an ugly finish as Johnson used his left arm to guide in Mikel Arteta's 55th-minute cross.

"I don't care what part of his body it came off," Moyes said. "Centre-forwards will always tell you that it doesn't matter how the goals go in."

Roy Keane, who is not averse to criticising officials these days despite showing understanding during the early months of his career as a Premier League coach, had no complaints. "It came off his arm but it would have been very harsh if the goal had been disallowed," the Sunderland manager said. "At the time, standing in the dugout, we never thought for one minute that it struck his arm."

Keane has more important things to worry about after a run of four home wins in the league came to an end. Chelsea are here at the weekend.

"It might go down to the last weekend and we have Arsenal at home," Keane said . "I hope it doesn't come down to that, I really do. But it's looking like it could go that way.

"The players are down after this defeat but they'll lick their wounds and get on with it. We have to keep believing even though that can be hard sometimes. The spirit in the camp is the least of my worries."

What will concern Keane is his team's lack of a cutting edge and dwindling creativity despite the return to fitness of the England international Kieran Richardson and the arrival of an experienced midfielder in Andy Reid. The Republic of Ireland international almost saved a point in the final minute here, only to see Tim Howard push clear his 28-yard free kick. Moments later the outstanding Joleon Lescott headed a Kenwyne Jones effort off the line – that snapshot of action encapsulating a frustrating afternoon for the Wearsiders' lone forward.

Keane defended the decision to employ an overly defensive 4-1-4-1 formation at home but said: "People will look at our 7-1 defeat down there earlier in the season and say that's why I did it. Kenwyne was the only striker for a long time but we had an attacking team out there. I didn't change things because it was a cagey type of game and there was no need to panic."

This morning, however, there is a growing need to panic. Especially for supporters of Sunderland and Liverpool.

Goal: Johnson (55) 0-1.

Sunderland (4-1-4-1): Gordon; Bardsley, Nosworthy, Evans, Collins; Whitehead; Stokes (Chopra, 46), Leadbitter (Prica 75), Richardson, Murphy (Reid, 67); Jones. Substitutes not used: Fulop (gk), McShane.

Everton (4-4-2): Howard; Hibbert, Yobo, Jagielka, Lescott; Arteta, Neville, Cahill (Rodwell, 87), Pienaar (Baines, 81); Johnson, Yakubu (Anichebe, 87). Substitutes not used: Turner (gk), Gravesen.

Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).

Booked: Sunderland Whitehead, Bardsley; Everton Cahill

Man of the match: Neville.

Attendance: 42, 595.

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