Stephane Sessegnon's second goal in a week handed Paolo Di Canio victory in his first home game as Sunderland eased themselves further clear of relegation trouble.
There was no knee slide this time, and the pants stayed clean. Nevertheless, Paolo Di Canio was more than satisfied in the wake of trousering another precious three points.
The mud-stained strides of the new Sunderland head coach have been framed and take pride of place at the Stadium of Light after his athletic antics to mark last week’s historic victory at Newcastle. Yesterday the effervescent Italian kept it more low key, leaving his revitalised players to take the plaudits with a second win in three to lift them six points clear of danger. It forced David Moyes to write off Everton’s slim hopes of qualifying for the Champions’ League.
Stéphane Sessègnon scored the only goal in first-half stoppage time to end Sunderland’s three-month wait for a home victory, in the process halting a 12-year, 19-game winless run against a team who only came to life in the final quarter of an hour.
Everton almost levelled in bizarre circumstances with 10 minutes left, Simon Mignolet earning a caution for a fine save to prevent Seb Larsson’s unfathomable 40-yard backpass finding the top corner.
Leighton Baines had a particularly frustrating day, surrendering possession in the lead-up to Sessègnon’s pivotal strike. Larsson fed the Benin forward, who held off Darron Gibson to find the bottom corner from 20 yards. The home crowd wanted another patella pirouette from Di Canio (right), but the Italian made do with a vigorous fist-pump.
“I didn’t go for the knee slide when we scored, even though it was another vital goal,” he revealed, describing the win as his best moment in a career spanning 27 years. “Anyway, it’s been difficult to find another pair of trousers since the other ones ended up being framed.
“The tailor measured me up for some new ones, but at first they were too short, then too long, and then not soft enough before I found the right ones.
“There’s still a lot of hard work to be done, and we’re not safe yet. It could take over 40 points to make sure, and we’re not there yet. It’s another win and that’s vitally important. I’m happy for my players. We deserved it because we put a lot in. It’s one step forward, but that’s all it is.”
Larsson had already gone close with three long-range free-kicks, the Swede denied by Howard and the crossbar while a third, curling effort was just wide in a first half in which Howard did well to block at the feet of Danny Graham.
Man of the match Danny Rose came close to doubling the lead early in the second half, as did Adam Johnson at the death, but in between came the expected Everton rally, though it proved insufficient to prevent a six-match run without defeat from ending.
Mignolet’s fine reaction save denied Nikica Jelavic when the substitute applied a touch to Marouane Fellaini’s 20-yard shot, and Moyes said his side merited a penalty for a Rose foul on Jelavic, but as for Everton’s top-four challenge, the Scot said: “Every game has become a must-win, so I can’t see that happening.”
He added: “Paolo’s got to be delighted with his good start, with two wins out of three. His arrival has helped with the atmosphere in the ground, it was incredible, and when they were hanging on at the end, it gave them a bit of energy. We put them under an awful lot of pressure but we didn’t have the quality where it counted.”
Sunderland (4-4-1-1): Mignolet; Colback, Cuellar, O’Shea, Rose; Johnson, Larsson (Vaughan, 81), N’Diaye, McClean; Sessègnon (Mangane, 90); Graham.
Everton (4-4-1-1): Howard; Coleman, Distin, Heitinga, Baines; Mirallas, Osman (Barkley, 77), Gibson (Jelavic, 46), Pienaar; Fellaini; Anichebe (Naismith, 77).
Referee: Phil Dowd
Man of the match: Rose (Sunderland)
Match rating: 6/10