Everton’s Gueye and Lukaku down Sunderland
Everton will happily take the points and the plaudits from this occasion –- but little else on an afternoon where entertainment and quality were extremely thin on the ground in Merseyside.
This was only David Moyes’s second return to Goodison since leaving the Everton manager’s job to take the Manchester United post following Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013.
His first visit back to this ground ended in ignominy in April 2014 when his United side lost 2-0. He was dismissed soon afterwards and he can have had few hopes that this trip would be any better. And so it proved.
Everton went into the contest unbeaten in the Premier League in this calendar year but Sunderland had won just once in eight matches and are now staring relegation in the face unless they pull off a dramatic rescue act in the last two months of the season.
Everton’s new-found defensive solidity has been the main reason they have regained some of their early season momentum and although a Europa League spot remains a distant dream, Ronald Koeman’s men have been one of the most improved Premier League teams of late.
With England manager Gareth Southgate in attendance, the home side opened with a flurry of corners but could not make them count before Gueye squandered the best early chance, firing at Jordan Pickford from 12 yards out, with the goalkeeper finally managed to smother at the second time of asking.
Sunderland struggled to get a foothold in the match and Everton enjoyed a far superior possession rate but did little with it.
Fabio Borini was lucky he fouled Seamus Coleman just outside the box after 15 minutes but again Everton wasted the free-kick opportunity.
Gueye had another great chance soon after as he zoomed in on goal but his low drive from a tight angle was well saved by Pickford.
– Breakthrough –
The first half remained uneventful until Everton finally broke through Sunderland’s defence with a wonderfully worked goal after 40 minutes.
Tom Davies sent Coleman down the right wing with a fine pass and the Republic of Ireland international delivered a beautiful ball into the middle which Gueye slammed past Pickford.
There was still time for Tom Davies to hit the woodwork in the first half as Everton looked to twist the knife in an occasion that all of a sudden looked Everton’s to lose.
Sunderland started the second half in a brighter fashion than they had finished the first, as they knew they had a game to chase, but chances remained non-existent.
Everton pushed and probed Moyes’s side and Ross Barkley and Davies did their best to get Lukaku in on goal but the quality of their final ball remained as poor as the game itself.
Koeman brought on Kevin Mirallas and Enner Valencia in a bid to give his side more attacking threat but both teams looked blunt, despite the undoubted effort on display.
It seemed baffling that Sunderland failed to use the speed and talents of Jermain Defoe more, especially considering his brilliant goalscoring consistency this term, but he barely got a look at the ball in the second half.
Everton’s best chance came with 15 minutes to go but Pickford brilliantly blocked Lukaku’s fiercely struck drive before Defoe then almost equalised when he rifled an effort across the crossbar that bounced down and away from the goalmouth.
Sunderland felt the ball had crossed the line but shortly afterwards, the away side’s protests were rendered academic as Lukaku ran half the length of the pitch and held off Bryan Oviedo to bundle the ball past Pickford and confirm the home side’s victory.