Everton moved level on points with Liverpool as the race for fourth place in the Premier League took another fascinating twist Sunday as Andy Johnson's goal sealed a 1-0 win at Sunderland. Six goals separated the two teams at Goodison Park earlier this season but Everton were never going to be given the opportunity to repeat their 7-1 defeat of Sunderland in front of a hostile Stadium of Light crowd.
Liverpool's easy 3-0 victory against Newcastle United the previous day meant a win for David Moyes' well organized side would not enable the Toffees to reclaim fourth position, but they are now level on points with their Merseyside rivals again. Sunderland were seeking a fifth successive home win in the league but the decision to employ Kenwyne Jones, the Trinidad and Tobago international, as a lone forward paid due respect to an Everton team chasing a top four finish.
For Sunderland boss Roy Keane, a return to club football's elite competition must seem a long way off, but the former Manchester United favourite is confident of keeping Sunderland up. Avoiding relegation may appear to be a modest aim for one of the world's most celebrated former players but the experienced Irishman accepts that a period of stability for a club in transition could prove to be the platform for future success.
With a loyal fan base, guaranteed financial backing and an ambitious young coach it is easy to imagine Sunderland becoming the next Everton. Moyes has taken his time fashioning the Toffees into composed and clinical contenders but the blue half of Liverpool is finally reaping rewards.
However, a combination of Sunderland's steel and Everton's obvious fatigue, following Thursday night's UEFA Cup defeat in Florence, made for a dreary first half. The home team enjoyed the greater share of possession but Jones was an isolated figure and their visitors lacked a cutting edge.
When he did threaten American international goalkeeper Tim Howard into an uncharacteristic fumble, the full back Tony Hibbert was on hand to clear. Daryl Murphy looked Sunderland's most dangerous attacker but midfielder Dean Whitehead wasted the Irishman's neat pass when he mistimed a 34th minute shot.
Everton finally found their rhythm in the dying stages of a dour half only for Anthony Stokes to halt a period of sustained pressure by clearing the Australian international Tim Cahill's header onto the post.
Cahill could have claimed the game's opening goal in the 55th minute but it was England forward Johnson who wheeled away with delight after forcing Mikel Arteta's cross over the line. Sunderland defender Jonny Evans was slow to react and Scotland goalkeeper Craig Gordon was in no position to repel the danger.
Jones was continuing to cause Everton concern but, even after going a goal down, a resolute Keane refused to throw another man forward.
That change finally came when Rade Prica replaced Grant Leadbitter but it was fellow Sunderland substitutes Miuchael Chopra and Andy Reid, who combined for the home side's best chance of the game only for Phil Jagielka to clear the danger. Reid was denied by the flying Howard in the closing moments before Joleon Lescott cleared off the line.