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Sunderland AFC v everton (A)...
match report

Sunderland lost 2-0 away to Everton in a match where the only positive was seeing young Bradley Lowery leading the teams out. Idrissa Gueye thundered home the first, before Romelu Lukaku caught Sunderland on the break to score the match winner. Sunderland’s attacks were few and far between, with a midfield performance as weak as it has been all season. Not great.

Sunderland travelled to Goodison Park off the back of a two-week fixture break. The fortnight wasn’t at all uneventful, however, with a trip to New York and an open training session at the SOL to keep the lads busy. With redundancies announced at SAFC, the timing of the New York trip couldn’t really have been worse. If we are to succumb to relegation this season, however, those redundancies will be the least of our problems.

With speculation that Jordan Pickford could be back in the side, the starting XI brought much pleasure to those who have criticised Vito Mannone’s performance in recent months. The rave returned.

Pickford,
Jones, O’Shea, Kone, Oviedo
Larsson, Gibson, NDong,
Borini, Defoe, Januzaj

Denayer travelled with the squad but missed out on a start through illness, while Mannone’s exclusion from the team and subs was unexplained. Borini would be given a chance back in the starting XI after also seeing a dip in form.

Everton began the stronger of the two sides, winning a flurry of corners to test the nerve of the returning Pickford. The Fatfield-born keeper nearly suffered a howler after fumbling what looked to be a simple stop, but he was agile enough to recover before the ball passed the goal line. Heart-in-mouth stuff.

A minute later, he collected one well before rifling an 80-yard long pass up the pitch towards Jermain Defoe, who was only marginally beaten to it. Pickford’s distribution is definitely the most impressive element of his game.

A fantastic chance came for Everton when Idrissa Gueye beat Kone far too easily before firing a shot towards the near post. Pickford managed to save it with the inside of his heel, advancing with his feet close together to prevent being nut-megged.

It took around half an hour for Sunderland to quell the advancements of Everton and get a foot in the game, but even then the home side were seeing more of the ball. With a midfield of Larsson, NDong, and Gibson, Sunderland lack quality going forward. NDong was the man looking to make things happen, and was also happy to muck in going back, but appears to be quite error prone and is by no means the finished article that his price tag suggests he should be.

Goal – Everton – 40 mins – Gueye
Some typically slack defending from Sunderland allowed the ball to be slid across the box by Seamus Coleman. Idrissa Gueye, who had already been causing problems, was allowed enough space to strike the ball powerfully with the side of his foot. The unchallenged effort was unstoppable and the player wheeled away to celebrate.

The challenge for Sunderland would be to keep the game at 1-0 until half-time — too often have we seen capitulation after a sucker punch goal. We nearly conceded again after another great strike, this time from Tom Davies, after he let fly from outside the box. It struck the outside of the post and spelled the last chance of the half.

While our defence is all but sturdy, it’s going forward where we’re really suffering. We don’t have the quality to move the ball up the pitch, and when we do, we’re left with Borini and Januzaj to do something special; you wouldn’t bank on either of them, would you? It can’t help that we haven’t had a consistent midfield this season. They probably don’t know what they’re expected to be doing in their individual roles — it certainly looks that way.

Sunderland actually started the second half well, with Oviedo firing a series of crosses into the area. Defoe may have touched the ball more in the opening stages of the second period than he did in the entirety of the first, but Everton’s Ashley Williams and Funes Mori were there to make his life difficult.  A penalty shout was dismissed after the ball seemed to strike Williams’ arm, the player deemed too close to be able to consciously react, which was fair.

Borini began to get more in the game around the 60-minute mark, tracking back to help break down Everton attacks while also picking out some clever passes to move the ball to the wing, where we looked to be relying on for chance creation, despite a lack of height or power inside the box.

Even with these occasional individual head rushes, our movement off the ball is poor, with the exception of Defoe, who plays on the shoulder of defence. We don’t seem to know what the best plan of attack is, and so all of our forward-thinking players have different ideas, resulting in a lack of options for the ball carrier.

Pickford was being called into action as the last 15 minutes of the game approached. First from a long-range Lukaku strike that swerved menacingly, and second from a fierce Lukaku snapshot. Pickford did well to keep out the second, and atoned for his earlier handling errors.

Sunderland then came agonisingly close after Defoe shimmied to find space before striking the ball off the underside of the bar. It looked as though the ball may have crossed the line on the bounce, but with goal line technology this theory was soon quashed. After the ball was cleared for a corner, we did a typical Sunderland.

Goal – Everton – 80 mins – Lukaku
After our first real sight of goal in the full match, Sunderland naively neglected to safeguard an Everton counter attack. A fudged set piece resulted in Lukaku being given a free run towards goal with only Oviedo to try and put the huge striker off his game. To Bryan’s credit, he very nearly did, only to see his last-ditch slide tackle inadvertently turn the ball past Pickford and into the goal to make it 2-0. Another lapse in concentration results in a Sunderland collapse.
Having replaced Borini and Gibson with Khazri and Honeyman just before we conceded, Moyes decided to bring on Manquillo for Billy Jones. Gooch was there, a great option to try and at least offer something going forward, but no. Sub the right back when we’re already 2-0 down, that’ll do it. Nevermind.

With Palace winning and Hull unlucky to get just the draw, Sunderland finished the match three points away from being outside the relegation zone. It’s still doable, technically, but if we continue to play like that then we may as well just write the season off now. Garbage.

Final Score: Everton 2-0 Sunderland

ALS MOTM: Bradley Lowery

Chris Thompson

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