Everton moved into 4th in the Premier League after a hard-fought 1-0 win over Sunderland.
Wes Brown’s own-goal from a Gerard Deulofeu cross was enough to separate the sides at the Stadium of Light. Both teams struggled to carve out chances in a gritty encounter, with Steven Naismith going closest for the visitors in the first half, blazing over after a neat turn.
At the other end Fabio Borini’s goal-bound shot was blocked on the line by the commanding John Stones and the 19 year-old was again at hand to clear the danger after Tim Howard spilled a Ki Sung Yeung shot.
Sunderland remain rooted to the table, seven points adrift of safety while Everton leap-frog Arsenal into fourth. The Toffees’ current points tally of 66 is one more than their highest ever points total in a Premier League season with five games left.
Their victory in the north-east was their seventh on the trot in the league, a feat last achieved in their title-winning season of 1986/87.
Howard- 7- was called into action on a number of occasions, especially as the game wore on. Made his presence felt aerially as Everton survived a barrage of Sunderland attacks.
Baines- 6- decent all round performance. One of Everton’s better players going forward in a first half which lacked intensity. Subdued the threat of Adam Johnson and passed well. Nearly opened Sunderland up with some incisive passes into Lukaku and Naismith.
Distin- 6- the Frenchman did enough without standing out. Still doesn’t look comfortable playing out from the back and resorted to long-balls on more than one occasion. Still dependable, showing great strength and desire.
Stones- 9- Everton’s best defender by a long way. Did exactly what was asked of him and more, showing superb anticipation to be in the right place at the right time on two occasions. Blocked a certain Borini goal in the first half and was at hand to react first to the loose ball when Howard spilled Ki’s shot. Man of the Match.
Coleman- 6- a quiet day for the Irishman. Defended well but it never really happened for him going forward and was content to apply conservatism in his game.
Barry- 7- excellent breaking up play in the middle of the park. Walked a fine tightrope as a yellow card would have seen the loanee suspended for the next two games, but this did not stop him protecting the back four.
McCarthy- 8- another quite brilliant display from the Irishman. Was busy throughout and didn’t give Sunderland midfielders a minutes peace. Popped up at the back post to block Johnson’s cross-cum-shot in the first half and could be found chasing the ball out into Sunderland’s half in the 82nd minute after Everton cleared from a corner.
Osman- 6- helped link up play quite nicely early on but waned as the game went on. Lined up on the left but floated inside which gave Baines a lot of space when he pushed high up. Slowed play down at times when it needed the next gear. Subbed just before the hour for Barkley.
Naismith- 7- like Osman, the Scot showed some neat touches and was effective drifting into space between Sunderland’s midfield and defence. Should have put Everton ahead in the first half but having done the hard work, fooling his marker with a classy turn, the striker blasted over from inside the area.
Deulofeu- 7- tried to turn the game at the Stadium of Light into the Deulofeu Show in the first half but more often than not either kept hold of the ball for too long or else ran into trouble. But the Spaniard was Everton’s best attacking player in the second half, taking on and beating Alonso on three occasions. Skipped past the full back, got the by-line and pulled back before Brown turned into his own net. Replaced by McGeady on 78 minutes.
Lukaku- 5- not his finest display but not his poorest either. Generally worked hard and put himself about but also frustrated Evertonians when a simple pass might have been the better option. Few ambitious shots from long range, but rarely troubled Mannone.
Barkley- 6- came on for Osman with half and hour still to play but never really influenced the game. Popped up at the back post to send a Lukaku cross towards goal and let fly from outside the area but didn’t catch the ball as well as he would have liked.
McGeady- 6- replaced Deulofeu with 12 minutes of normal time left. Was very positive with the ball and worked hard to help his team defend without it. Showed pace and close control in attack.
Well it wasn’t pretty but Everton took all three points in a vital win…what message does this send to their Champions League rivals Arsenal?…Is it pleasing to see that Everton can still dig in and win ugly when it’s needed?…Who was your Man of the Match?…With John Stones playing so well, do you expect to see a fit Phil Jagielka win his place back?…please leave your comments below…