After a run of games were Everton dominated but only drew, three points were welcome against Sunderland, even if they were much tougher to acquire than anyone expected.
Thankfully the whole match wasn’t ruined by James McClean’s decision to wear exactly the same shirt that he has on to play football every other week of the year. That’s because nobody in the real world actually noticed – the subsequent ‘furore’ about the Irish winger choosing not to wear a shirt with a poppy on it only existed in the Matrix, where most of these sorts of mini-shitstorms tend to dwell.
The whole poppy tyranny gets more excruciating every year, as what was once seen as a nice, and let’s face it easy, gesture – sticking a nicker in a tin once a year on your way out of Asda while avoiding the RAC fella and the LoveFilm student – has been hijacked and turned into this tortuous battle for the moral high ground.
As ever in these situations, if that’s all you’ve got to get concerned about, whether someone who you don’t know wears a paper flower or not, you are clearly winning the game of life. Go you.
After a very touching silence that James McClean notably didn’t break, the football got underway and the first half bore a striking resemblance to the first 45 minutes of the FA Cup match at Goodison last season. Sunderland were dead organised and with two or three crisp passes were doing what it was taking Everton 10 or 15 to achieve.
In the opening stages Stephane Sessegnon and Stephen Fletcher were both played in behind Seamus Coleman, with Tim Howard making a close-range stop from the first effort while the second rolled agonisingly wide of the far post.
John O’Shea, ably assisted by Carlos Cuellar, was excellent at the heart of the visitors’ defence and for most of the match marshalled Marouane Fellaini and Nikica Jelavic as well as anyone – they barely got a sniff until the second half.
The Blues definitely miss a bit of dynamism in the middle of the park at the moment – everyone knows that the ball is going to be ushered out to the wings at every opportunity when sometimes it is crying out for a midfielder to drive through the centre and have a dig or play a one-two on the edge of the box. That’s certainly not Phil Neville’s game, although he did force Simon Mignolet to make his only meaningful save of the first half with low drive from long range that the Belgian keeper pushed around the post.
The reaction to the first half was downgraded from ‘meh’ to ‘motherfucker’ on 45 minutes when, following a half-cleared Sunderland corner, Craig Gardner lofted the ball back into the box and Adam Johnson reacted sharper than Howard and Leon Osman to turn the ball into the Gwladys Street goal.
With Everton labouring, especially following Kevin Mirallas’s withdrawal clutching his hamstring, the second half did not look at all promising. And in all honesty Everton never looked particularly threatening after the break, a couple of Johnny Heitinga headers aside, until one of Goodison’s almost forgotten men, Apostolos Vellios, replaced Neville on 72 minutes.
Fellaini dropped a bit deeper, making him more difficult to pick up, and the Black Cats’ defence now had three big fuckers to deal with instead of just two whenever Everton got the ball into the box.
The impact was immediate – on 76 minutes Osman rolled the ball into the feet of Fellaini in space on the edge of the Sunderland penalty area. He spun, took a touch and cracked a low shot through O’Shea’s legs and into the bottom corner before Mignolet even saw it.
It was a goal from absolutely nothing and to compound Sunderland’s frustration a second followed within two minutes. Again Osman pushed a pass into Fellaini who nonchalantly flicked it ‘around the corner’ – again through O’Shea’s legs – and into the path of Jelavic.
One touch, bang, the Croatian cracker is back in business.
To be fair to Sunderland they played pretty well – although not quite as brilliantly as Martin O’Neill stated in his post-match interview – and might have levelled matters during the vinegar strokes of the game when Cuellar got onto a loose ball in the Everton box but smashed his shot against the back of his own player.
Everton introduced Thomas Hitzlsperger for the last five minutes, just to prove that he isn’t some Antony Gardner-type Sasquatch figure, and Der Hammer actually managed a couple of speculative digs from long range. As someone suggested at the time though, he looked like he hit them with the curved part that you use to pull the nails out with and that almost certainly has a proper name used exclusively by real men who know about tools and wood and stuff. Anyway, he fucking missed.
All in all though, a jolly good game. Because we won.