Cats come unstuck against Toffees
Goals from Steven Pienaar and Marouane Fellaini gave Everton a 2-0 win at Sunderland which kept the Black Cats looking over their shoulders. The South African midfielder fired the visitors into a 48th-minute lead and then set up Marouane Fellaini to secure the points 19 minutes from time as the Black Cats slumped to their ninth home league defeat of the season. They remain four points clear of the bottom three with three games to play, but face tough away trips to Bolton and Portsmouth before Chelsea head for the Stadium of Light on the final day of the campaign. Painfully for Sunderland boss Ricky Sbragia, whose side have now taken just five of the last 30 points they have contested, they were well beaten by an Everton side depleted by injuries, but still too good for them. The home fans among a crowd of 41,313 had revelled in the plight of arch-rivals Newcastle earlier in the afternoon, and while their club is significantly better off, they too face an uncertain few weeks. Having earlier seen the Magpies lose 3-0 at Liverpool to leave themselves with just three games in which to preserve their top-flight status, the Black Cats ran out knowing victory would virtually guarantee their own safety. By contrast, Everton arrived on Wearside aware that three points would take them, although perhaps for little more than 24 hours, above Aston Villa into fifth place, and that was all the motivation the FA Cup finalists needed. With so much at stake for both sets of players, it was a surprise that the opening 45 minutes unfolded at a relatively pedestrian pace with the home side struggling to impose themselves at all and the visitors unable to make the most of the promising positions they created. Sbragia chose to replace three of the four midfield players who started last weekend's debacle at West Brom, but he got little reward as Grant Leadbitter, Dean Whitehead and Steed Malbranque found themselves at times overwhelmed. The Frenchman may have had at least a partial excuse after having stitches put into a head wound following a first-minute clash with Tim Cahill, but his manager would have sought explanations at the break. Too often Cahill, playing deeper than he often does for the Toffees, and Pienaar were able to influence the game in acres of space to put the home defence under pressure, with full-back Leighton Baines also prospering down the left. However, the visitors created few scoring opportunities, Cahill forcing comfortable saves from Marton Fulop, first with a looping header and then with a long-range shot. Brazilian Jo, playing as a lone striker, was presented with the best chance of the first half with 15 minutes gone when he and Pienaar combined to carve open a path to goal, although the South American's driven shot from a tight angle sailed wide of the far post. At the other end, Kenwyne Jones and Djibril Cisse briefly threatened to ruffle the feathers of the returning Joleon Lescott and Phil Jagielka's deputy, Joseph Yobo, but too often once again looked as if they had never been introduced. Indeed, it was left to Leadbitter to fire a long-range 27th-minute effort just past the post three minutes after defender Calum Davenport had lifted a header harmlessly over the bar. The home crowd left their side in little doubt that much more was required as they returned to the field, but their frustration increased markedly within three minutes. Jo collected Phil Neville's pass with his back to goal and span Anton Ferdinand before sliding the ball into the path of Pienaar, who in turn stabbed it past Fulop from close range with Phil Bardsley unable to intervene. Danny Collins might have dragged his side back into it within two minutes when he met Leadbitter's corner with a firm header, but he directed it straight at keeper Tim Howard. Sunderland were belatedly starting to build up a head of steam, although Yobo and Lescott remained largely untroubled at the heart of the Everton defence. Cahill might have made it 2-0 on the hour had Bardsley not got a touch to Dan Gosling's cross marginally before the Australian could pounce at the far post. Sbragia replaced Cisse with David Healy with 27 minutes remaining, but it was the visitors who continued to look the more likely to add to their tally. Fellaini perhaps should have done better after Fulop had failed to intercept Jo's 65th-minute flick-on, although he made amends six minutes later. Pienaar found himself in space on the right as Davenport inexplicably backed away from him, and he made the most of the opening to square for the Belgian, who fired past Fulop first-time to seal the victory.