Cahill 6, Donovan 19
Everton will face far sterner tests this season and they barely had to move out of first gear last night, coasting to a 2-0 victory over Sunderland.
The Black Cats constantly looked far too rigid when in possession, often giving the ball cheaply to Everton’s well organised and hard working midfield. Steve Bruce left out flair players Andy Reid and Steed Malbranque and aimed to contain the opposition with a defensively minded 4-5-1. His side constantly surrendered possession during the opening exchanges and Everton had essentially wrapped up the game midway through the first half. The North East side started their 14th different back four of the season and this was startlingly apparent when an in swinging ball from Marouane Fellaini caused confusion in the Sunderland defence, with Tim Cahill ghosting in to the box unmarked and finding himself rewarded with a free header that he duly converted. There was a hint of offside about the goal, but Sunderland’s back four only had themselves to blame for a critical loss of concentration.
It was similarly slack defending the led to Everton’s second. Tim Cahill again played a significant role, winning a header that fell to Landon Donovan who had drifted inside from his right midfield position. This movement had seemingly confused the Wearsider’s back four who failed to pick the American up, abdicating the responsibility to each other. Donovan finished well, his first goal in English football and the move provided a fine example of the kind of fluidity that has been absent from Sunderland’s play in recent games.
Injuries have hampered Steve Bruce’s side’s progress throughout the season and all three of Sunderland’s substitutions were forced onto him. Kieran Richardson was the first to depart midway through the first half and things went from bad to worse when Lee Cattermole – bizarrely – seemed to discover an injury whilst jogging out for the second half. Nyron Nosworthy was the third to go, withdrawing midway through the second half. Such disruption meant that Sunderland were unable to find any kind of rhythm or momentum during the game and Everton’s lead was never going to be challenged, but this did not purely account for their poor showing.
Although the Merseysiders played some neat football in small bursts, they were far from their best and even an injury hit Sunderland team should have made the game more of a contest. The first time Tim Howard was tested was after 80 minutes and the Black Cats did not provide nearly enough service to the front two of Darren Bent and Kenwyne Jones. On the rare occasions when the likes of Boudewijn Zenden and Andy Reid did manage to get quality deliveries into the area, the strikers simply failed to react. Sunderland’s best opportunity arrived just before halftime when Zenden played in an excellent low cross from the left, which found is way past two Everton defenders to the feet of Jones. However, the Trinidad and Tobago front man did not anticipate the ball reaching him and his rushed effort was blasted over the bar, summing up Sunderland’s night.