Everton battle for gritty point vs. Sunderland after late penalty
Sebastian Larsson’s superb free-kick was cancelled out by a Leighton Baines penalty as Sunderland and Everton drew 1-1 at the Stadium of Light.
The Sweden international bent a fine 25-yard effort into the bottom corner on 67 minutes to put Sunderland on course for their second win in a week, but Connor Wickham clattered into Seamus Coleman with 15 minutes remaining and Baines made no mistake from the spot. Everton dominated possession for much of the contest but were indebted to James McCarthy in second-half injury time after the Republic of Ireland international hacked a Wes Brown header off the line.
The result keeps Everton 10th, but moves Sunderland up to 14th, three points clear of the drop zone. Sunderland, buoyed by their Monday Night Football victory at Crystal Palace, began brightly and Wickham glanced a Larsson corner wide of the far post in the first minute.
Everton responded, with Samuel Eto’o firing a wild shot wide after a nice exchange with Romelu Lukaku, but Wickham was again to the fore on five minutes, connecting with another Larsson corner and looping a header onto the roof of the net. Sunderland’s early impetus faded, though, and despite losing Gareth Barry to injury, Everton began to dominate possession and enjoyed long spells on the edge of their hosts’ box.
However, apart from long-range strikes from Lukaku and Barry’s replacement, Darron Gibson, which both flew well over the bar, the visitors struggled to create any genuine openings. At the other end, Sunderland’s rampaging Anthony Reveillere repeatedly burst into the left side of the box and drew a superb tackle from Aiden McGeady on 26 minutes. However, the home fans were incensed moments later when referee Lee Mason waved away appeals for a foul on Jordi Gomez on the edge of the area by Phil Jagielka.
Everton charged up the field amid the confusion but Lukaku was only able to nod Ross Barkley’s cross tamely into the arms of Costel Pantilimon. Tim Howard was called upon to produce a fine save on 36 minutes, after Gibson had been caught dithering on the ball in his own box, and did well to turn Gomez’s low effort wide with his legs.
That was as close as either side came to breaking the deadlock in a disappointing first half, with Barkley’s late surge forward, only to find no options open to him, typical of a conservative approach from both teams in the opening 45. The second half saw a change in attitude from both sides, though, and a breathless, end-to-end battle followed.
Lukaku should have scored his fourth in five appearances against Sunderland just three minutes after the re-start but, after capitalizing on a Liam Bridcutt error, he over-ran the ball and Pantilimon was able to smother the ball at the Belgian’s feet. Everton then could have had a penalty on 50 minutes when Coleman nicked the ball off Reveillere as he tried to usher it out for a goal-kick, only to tumble in the box.
Lee Mason wasn’t swayed but Everton continued to enjoy plenty of possession around Sunderland’s box, with Lukaku rocketing a strike against the woodwork on 56 minutes. Lukaku then fluffed an attempted header from Baines’ cross on 62 minutes, and Everton paid for his wastefulness moments later.
Sunderland sub Will Buckley made an immediate impact, bursting forward and drawing a foul from Baines and from the resulting free-kick Larsson curled in the opener and his second of the season. Larsson had the Everton defense at panic stations three minutes later with another free-kick, this time bending a fine cross in from the left touchline, which Gibson was forced to head clear under pressure.
However, Sunderland’s lead lasted just nine minutes. Samuel Eto’o played a fine through ball to the on-rushing Coleman and, just as the right-back was about to pull the trigger, Wickham brought him down from behind. Remarkably, Wickham escaped a card, but Baines blasted the ball down the middle of the goal to pull Everton level â although Pantilimon could have done better to keep it out.
Sunderland responded by going in search of a winner and more direct play from Buckley forced Jagielka to clear under pressure. Howard caused controversy with three minutes to go when he opted to fall on the ball as he waited for it to enter his area – but Sunderland’s appeals for handball were rightly ignored.
McCarthy, though, was Everton’s hero at the death, blasting away Brown’s powerful header in stoppage time to extend his side’s unbeaten run to four games in the Premier League.