MAYBE Evertonâ€™s post-Europa League fatigue was to blame? Perhaps Adam Johnsonâ€™s enduring struggle to recapture his elusive form should be held partly responsible? Or might it simply have been a case of the disappointing Romelu Lukaku leaving his shooting boots on Merseyside?
For whatever reason, it took a pair of set pieces, calmly dispatched by Sebastian Larsson and Leighton Baines, to ensure the match did not end goalless.
A game which left Gareth Barry with a badly injured ankle began in deceptively promising fashion. While Connor Wickham â€“ deployed wide on the left and ruffling Seamus Coleman â€“ headed one corner wide and another over, Everton also spurned an inviting chance. When Samuel Etoâ€™o and Lukaku exchanged passes Sunderlandâ€™s defence was deceived but Etoâ€™oâ€™s shot from the edge of the area proved wild and wide.
Everyone, and Barry especially, could have done without the interruption prompted when Jordi GÃ³mez tripped the Everton midfielder, then seemed, accidentally, to tread on him. GÃ³mez swiftly saw yellow but several minutes passed before was carried off on a stretcher, his injured leg in a brace, and taken to hospital. â€œGarethâ€™s having x-rays,â€ Roberto MartÃnez said. â€œUnfortunately he was just stretching his leg out when he went down.â€
GÃ³mez featured in much of Sunderlandâ€™s best work and his deft pass to the overlapping left-back Anthony RÃ©veillÃ¨re (deputising for Patrick van Aanholt, who is to have shoulder surgery and will be out until February) resulted in Sylvain Distin desperately scrambling RÃ©veillÃ¨reâ€™s ensuing cross-shot to safety.
Although Tim Howard smartly diverted GÃ³mezâ€™s low shot after Sunderlandâ€™s Spanish midfielder caught Darron Gibson loitering in possession, he was later lucky to escape a second yellow card for simulation after appearing to dive in Evertonâ€™s box in the face of minimal contact from Phil Jagielka.
Overall MartÃnezâ€™s side saw more of the ball and generally manipulated it better, leaving Gus Poyetâ€™s players looking distinctly nervous whenever Aiden McGeady and Ross Barkley ran at them.
Impressive as John Oâ€™Shea proved in Sunderlandâ€™s defence, mystery surrounded the manner in which menacing visiting attacks persistently foundered inside the area as a litany of ill-judged final balls left Costel Pantilimon surprisingly underemployed in goal.
Displaying poor first touch and failing to hold the ball up, Lukaku should shoulder much of the blame in a game in which he was shown up by the industry and incision of Sunderlandâ€™s lone striker, Steven Fletcher.
As the bright November sunshine slowly faded Lukaku finally roused himself sufficiently to test Sunderlandâ€™s goalkeeper. When Liam Bridcutt conceded possession, opportunity beckoned but a combination of the striker over-running the ball and Pantilimonâ€™s diving save spared Bridcuttâ€™s blushes.
After Lukakuâ€™s next shot struck the outside of a post, Poyetâ€™s mind turned to substitutions. Off came the once again underwhelming Johnson â€“ a talent Sunderlandâ€™s manager acknowledges is a shadow of the player he really should be â€“ to be replaced by Will Buckley. The former Brighton winger made an instant impact, his bold sashay forward being rudely abridged by Bainesâ€™ foul just outside the box.
Larsson capped a good game by reminding everyone of his dead-ball expertise courtesy of an immaculate free-kick delivery curved, with his right foot, into the bottom corner.
The Wearside celebrations proved short-lived. When Etoâ€™o slipped a neat pass to Coleman, Wickham, serving as the last defender and denying a clear goal-scoring opportunity, rashly sent the Everton right-back crashing to earth.
It looked a clear penalty and Lee Mason â€“ who should arguably have sent off Wickham â€“ was certainly not buying into Sunderlandâ€™s somewhat excessive protestations. Following a short delay Baines took the kick. It was far from the left-backâ€™s finest penalty but nonetheless Pantilimon could not prevent the ball passing under his body en route to the back of the net. â€œIt should have been a red card,â€ MartÃnez said. â€œIt was a major moment.â€
So, too, was the slightly surreal cameo which saw Howard control the ball outside his area with his stomach after dropping on it in a cat-like pounce. Although he did not use his arms, few goalkeeping manoeuvres are as high risk and Sunderland fans duly screamed â€œhandballâ€.
â€œIt was tough for the referee today; I wouldnâ€™t have liked to be him,â€ said Poyet, who liberated Jack Rodwell, once of Everton, from the bench, in place of GÃ³mez.
Yet still a decisive goal stubbornly refused to materialise and all that remained was for the managers, former Real Zaragoza team-mates, to share the warmest of embraces.
â€œIt was one of those games that was always in the balance,â€MartÃnez. â€œWe controlled it with ease for long spells but we didnâ€™t use that control to create clear cut opportunities.â€
Man of the match Sebastian Larsson (Sunderland) – The Guardian