Sunderland's latest recruit happens to be an American who was brought up in Springfield. The way the Black Cats have been playing of late, Homer Simpson would not be out of place in Peter Reid's struggling side. For a 15th League match in succession, they failed to score a first-half goal. And they were heading for a fifth match out of seven without a goal until Claudio Reyna, who was raised in Springfield, New Jersey, marked his home debut with a winning touch 13 minutes from the end of a desperately poor Premiership encounter.
The American's close-range shot sent the majority of the crowd home happy enough, though the scoreline was a little tough on an injury-hit Everton team who battled hard for ultimately no reward. The sight of Thomas Graveson sporting a bandage over the head-wound he suffered against Derby last week was a telling symbol for a patched-up side. The same was true of Paul Gascoigne, toiling tirelessly for 90 minutes.
Though the 34-year-old midfielder allowed himself to entertain public thoughts of a return to England duty, his prime concern is to secure a lasting place in Everton's midfield. His contract expires in the summer, and to gain a renewal he needs to show a little more than fleeting glimpses of his old form. He started yesterday for just the fifth time this season, in a central-midfield role that placed him in direct opposition to Reyna, the player who will lead the United States on their World Cup mission in Japan and Korea next summer.
It proved to be an intriguing test, with Sunderland's Captain America eager to make an impression in his first appearance at the Stadium of Light. Gascoigne proved equal to the task in the early stages, covering considerable yardage as he tracked the mobile Reyna's every move. He might have given Everton an early lead, too, but from the left edge of the penalty area the England old boy curled a right-footed free-kick over Thomas Sorensen's crossbar.
Unfortunately for Gascoigne, Everton spent much of the first half on the back foot. They were fortunate that Steve Watson was stationed on goal-line guard duty to clear a back-heeled shot from Darren Williams. They were also lucky to substitute Graveson rather than have him sent off, the abrasive Dane having been yellow-carded before referee Barry Knight let him off with a stern warning after a second eminently bookable challenge on Julio Arca.
One or two of Gascoigne's tackles were less than perfectly timed, too, and after 69 minutes he found his name in the book for such a challenge on Reyna. He can still pass with devastating precision, though, as he showed when releasing Niclas Alexandersson on the right eight minutes into the second half. He also tested Sorensen with a long-range shot, but it was Sunderland who were always the more likely to break through.
They finally did in the 77th minute, thanks largely to the selfless foraging of Kevin Phillips. The England striker, who had been denied by a fine Simonsen save early in the second half, drifted wide on the right to deliver an inviting ball into the goalmouth for Reyna. His shot was parried by Simonsen, but when Jason McAteer turned the ball back into the middle the Springfield man applied the match-winning touch from two yards.
Sunderland 1 Everton 0
Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 48,013