The visit of the Black Cats, however, will not be straightforward. Sunderland themselves crave victory to overtake Liverpool and strengthen their European hopes, as a win at Goodison Park would lift Steve Bruce’s team over the Reds for 24 hours at least. Having already beaten Chelsea and Aston Villa on their travels Sunderland have shown they can be a fearsome prospect away from home, but conversely, they did lose heavily to Newcastle United at St James’ Park and gave up a 2-1 lead to fall 3-2 at bottom side Wolverhampton Wanderers in November, days after the first meeting between Everton and Sunderland, an entertaining affair that finished 2-2. The Sunderland that turns up on Merseyside on Saturday could the one that steamrollered Chelsea – or it could be the one that capitulated against Newcastle.
With the end of the season approaching and Sunderland sitting on the precipice of their first taste of European football in a generation, Bruce finds himself in a position Moyes knows very well. For many years it was Everton on the heels of the top sides, hoping to make continental qualification, but today the Blues find themselves seven places – but only seven points behind their usurpers. One of the overwhelming reasons Everton have not been able to challenge for Europe this season has been the lack of a reliable goal scorer, as their finances stretched to breaking point, but Sunderland, at the start of the season at least, had an array of forwards to satisfy most teams in the division. That was before Darren Bent left in January and Danny Welbeck was struck down through injury but Asamoah Gyan remains, and the Ghanaian’s 10 goals in 25 games this season have been vital.
On the surface, Louis Saha’s nine goals in 21 games sounds almost as spectacular as Gyan’s contribution, but the bare numbers obscure the fact that four of Saha’s goals came in one match, against Blackpool in early February, his last appearance before suffering a hamstring injury. The Frenchman could return against the Mackems, although Tuesday’s FA Cup tie with Reading is more likely, but if Saha does not feature this weekend Everton’s forward burden will probably fall on Jermaine Beckford, leaving the home side with a lone striker signed on a free transfer from a side then in League One, and the visitors with a £13m lone striker signed after an impressive World Cup, perhaps reinforcing why Sunderland are fighting for Europe and Everton are fighting against relegation.
Goals have not been Everton’s forte this campaign but when the sides met in November the scores were equal and a similar outcome will do neither team much good this weekend, which should make for an intriguing contest.