SUNDERLAND 0 – EVERTON 1 (Brown og 75)
The 3 points dropped in the reverse fixture on Boxing Day might still prove to be the difference between Champions League and Europa League football next season. In that game Sunderland had clung to their slim advantage as they were outplayed by a team reduced to ten men after Tim Howard’s red card and resultant penalty – a double punishment for a single offense. Here Everton, looking for a record seventh consecutive Premier League win, were in no mood to give the opposition any gifts and dug deep, defended doggedly and scored a perfectly timed, decisive goal. Their performance may have lacked the fluidity and silky attacking play of the wins over Newcastle and Arsenal but it showcased other facets of this team; determination, tenacity and a touch of bloody-mindedness.
Roberto Martinez shuffled his pack of attackers again. His selections always look one, two or even three games ahead; the Moyes-era mantra of ‘never changing a winning team’ like the stone-age flint axe, or the dreadnought, has long ago been consigned to history. With three games in eight days – Sunderland on Saturday followed by home games against Palace on Wednesday evening and then United next Sunday – he chose to bench Mirallas and Barkley and start Osman and Deulofeu. Goal-sniffer in chief, Steven Naismith, retained his starting slot and McGeady remains, presumably itching to start, in reserve. And after the clever tactical switch to 4-3-3, with Lukaku wide-right, which undressed Arsenal, he returned to the familiar 4-2-3-1 set-up. The return of the ‘School of Science’ to Goodison has been a long time coming and we can’t wait to discover what strategy Martinez has planned for Manchester United, not to mention the visit of miracle worker Tony Pulis and his latest creation.
Gerard Deulofeu has pace, skill, and his shot – which he unleashed at the Emirates – is a powerful thing that can be executed with virtually no back-lift. If only he could curb his single-mindedness when he is on the ball and occasionally incorporate his team-mates into his game. Here, during one first-half attack, he could have played a simple ball to Lukaku or Naismith, both in acres of space, while last Sunday against the Gunners he squandered a clear cut opening, preferring to execute yet another Cruyff-turn rather than play in Lukaku who was begging for the chance to make it four. In time he will get it and when he does he will be lethal; with just five games remaining let’s hope he’s a quick learner.
SUNDERLAND (4-1-4-1): Mannone; Bardsley, O’Shea, Brown, Alonso; Cattermole; Johnson, Ki, Colback (Larsson 70), Borini; Wickham
Unused subs: Ustari, Gardner, Giaccherini, Cuellar, Vergini, Scocco
Booked: Johnson, Bardsley, Larsson
EVERTON (4-2-3-1):Howard; Coleman, Stones, Distin, Baines; McCarthy, Barry; Deulofeu (McGeady 78) Naismith, Osman© (Barkley 58); Lukaku
Unused subs: Robles, Hibbert, Mirallas, Garbutt, Alcaraz
Ref: Lee Probert