Many thought the recent visit of West Brom gave Everton their easiest 90 minutes of the season; this was easier. David Moyes, at the 10th time of asking, now has a Premier League victory over Martin O’Neill. This walkover extends Everton’s unbeaten run against Sunderland to 18 games. The last time Sunderland beat Everton a certain Peter Reid was in charge of the Mackems; they could have done with him in midfield today.
Firm eyes on Wembley led to rests for Baines, Jelavic, Distin and Cahill. Baines was on 99 consecutive Premier League appearances but he will have enjoyed the rest. The game began with Everton controlling possession and Sunderland happy to sit back. The problem with Sunderland’s counter attacking plan was their ineptitude going forward. Nicklas Bendtner’s absence left the Mackems without a figurehead in attack with Stephane Sessegnon struggling against Everton’s centre backs.
The first half passed without any incident of note. McFadden, enjoying a rare start, had two efforts blocked whilst Cattermole picked up a booking for an awful tackle on Pienaar. Around the half hour mark, Everton woke up and produced the best move of the half. After good Denis Stracqualursi hold-up play, Pienaar and Gueye combined as Pienaar’s effort went over the bar. Fellaini fired over and wide as Everton pressed before the interval.
Sunderland’s first effort did not arrive until the 37th. The Gwladys Street clapped in admiration after Sessegnon’s overhead kick flew past Howard’s post. The second half began with Everton on the front foot as Jagielka and Gueye tried their luck from corners. Sunderland continued to offer little in attack and they soon paid for their cautious approach.
After the break, Gueye notched his first in a blue shirt after Mignolet could only parry Osman’s drive. Osman’s initial effort came after Pienaar’s smart knockdown in the area. Gueye had been ineffective but the goal lifted him and he improved after it. Sunderland had to push forward, playing into Everton’s hands, as gaps began to appear in the Sunderland rearguard.
McFadden almost rounded Mignolet and Fellaini fired another effort over as Everton probed. The only Sunderland opening came as the ball rattled around the Everton box. After clearing the danger, Everton punished Sunderland’s inept display. Pienaar and Osman fired in delightful finishes within the space of 90 seconds to put the game beyond doubt. Victor Anichebe added a fourth via a deflection as Sunderland’s surrender ended.
Steven Pienaar stood out, creating five chances and boasting a 94% pass completion rate. Even without his partner in crime, Leighton Baines, he was still Everton’s most influential player. Able support came from Fellaini and Osman as Everton dominated the midfield. Royston Drenthe returned from compassionate leave and his assured cameo leaves Moyes with a Wembley dilemma. Victor Anichebe continues to prove his worth as an impact sub.
The reshuffled back four kept Sunderland out with ease. John Heitinga continues to cement his place as first choice centre back. Phil Jagielka ably deputised for Sylvain Distin with a much-improved passing display. Phil Neville struggled against Tamworth at left back but turned in a more assured display this time. Tony Hibbert put his recent jittery performances behind him to enhance his Wembley claims.
Everton’s approach made for a welcome change. Despite struggling to create in the first half, Everton continued to try to pass their way into openings. Too often, this season, Everton’s tendency has been to resort to long balls. The home side stuck to their task today and persisted with a passing game. This was clear in the post-match stats; Everton’s passing accuracy is 76% and the accuracy for this game was 85%.
Thirty attempts, four goals and eleven good performances; all accomplished without Everton’s lucky charm, Darron Gibson. Attention now turns to Wembley and an FA Cup semi-final. David Moyes’ starting eleven appears set with ten of the eleven spots seemingly filled. The one spot up for grabs; right midfield, appears to be a choice between Gueye and Drenthe.
Everton need to take this form, confidence and belief into Saturday. Should they do that, they will be well on their way to booking a second trip to Wembley. These next four days will go at a snail’s pace as everyone counts down the seconds until Saturday’s big kick-off.
All together now, “We’re on the march with Moyes’ army…”
Howard 6 – Hibbert 7 Jagielka 7 Heitinga 8 Neville 7 – McFadden 7 Osman 7 Fellaini 8 Gueye 7 – Pienaar 8 – Stracqualursi 7
Subs: Drenthe 7 – Anichebe 7 – Coleman 6