Defeat to Everton all but seals Sunderland’s fate
Written by Chris Winterburn
Sunderland’s display at home to Everton this afternoon showed a great deal of character if not the necessary quality to overcome an in-form side challenging for Champions League football next season.
Gus Poyet’s men knew prior to kick-off that anything other than a victory would most likely not be enough to give the Black Cats a fighting chance of avoiding the financially perilous drop into the Championship. Poyet abandoned his recently favoured five at the back system with Santiago Vergini dropping out of the starting eleven with the experienced partnership of John O’Shea and Wes Brown preferred.
There was a tense feel around the ground from the start which was only made worse as news filtered through from around other grounds that goals were going in for Fulham, West Bromwich Albion and latterly Cardiff City which made Sunderland’s task even more challenging. It was clear that the midfield three of Cattermole, Ki and Colback would have to be incredibly mobile to avoid being overrun by Everton’s quartet of attacking talents, a fate suffered by Arsenal just six days earlier.
Whilst it wasn’t the attractive football Poyet had promised when he first took the Wearside job the first half display was effective. Sunderland’s high pressing and concentrated area of challenges around the centre circle restricted Everton’s movements going forward and Roberto Martinez’s side had the look of a frustrated team as they found it harder and harder to break into Sunderland’s defensive area.
Gerard Deulofeu, given yet another start by Martinez, was the only bright spark in what was in truth a dismal opening forty five minutes as the quick footed winger tested his fellow countryman Marcos Alonso on the right hand side with great regularity. Alonso simply had no answer to Deulofeu’s speed and quick feet, often being left in an awkward position with Deulofeu at least five yards further up the touchline. Had Deulofeu’s decision making been less selfish Everton could have been a goal to the good before half-time with Sunderland leaving gaps at the back following a corner kick.
Sunderland’s defensive line was guilty of dropping deeper and deeper near the climax of the first period and whilst this was effective in crowding out Everton attacks in and around Vito Mannone’s penalty area it made counter attacks very difficult with Fabio Borini finding himself charging up the field with the ball with absolutely no support on a handful of occasions. The best chance of the game came just before the break when Borini took the ball round Tim Howard and placed a shot that was goal bound only for John Stones to clear the ball off the line in what was a hugely solid performance from the teenager.
Connor Wickham has been asked to do a very difficult job since his return from a loan spell at Elland Road. In fairness the former Ipswich Town striker looks low on both fitness and confidence and being isolated at the top of the pitch did him no favours as Sunderland’s defensive solidity came first. With Fabio Borini’s energy in effect just behind Wickham you feel as though Steven Fletcher’s eye for a run in behind was a real miss today.
Everton themselves did not click as well as in previous fixtures this afternoon with the free flowing and at times frantic attacking football that tore Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal to pieces last weekend just not there this afternoon. Ross Barkley’s introduction just prior to the hour mark was supposed to rectify this however it was Deulofeu who would make the difference late on.
Despite the Spaniard having drifted out of the match not long into the second half, Deulofeu picked up the ball on the right hand flank, beat Marcos Alonso yet again and fired the ball across the face of Sunderland’s goal only for Wes Brown to clip the ball into his own net past the wrong footed Mannone.
You always felt as though Sunderland would have to score first this afternoon if they were to earn all three points and when Everton took the lead the mood around the Stadium of Light became one of considerable concern. The crowd did their best to urge Gus Poyet’s side on and the hosts did have a number of chances in the remaining twenty minutes but none which truly tested Tim Howard in the Everton goal. Worryingly for Sunderland, whilst throwing men forward in attack they left the back door wide open and Everton could have scored at least two further goals had there been more composure within the Toffees’ forward line.
At this point Sunderland sit rock bottom of the Premier League on twenty five points whilst Cardiff City and Fulham have both moved onto twenty nine and thirty points respectively courtesy of victories this afternoon. Although Sunderland do still have a game in hand you do feel as though there is no too much to do for Gus Poyet and his side and a rebuilding job with a year in the Championship may well be close on the horizon.
You can follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4