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Leighton Baines Hits A Late Penalty To Earn Everton A Draw At Sunderland

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MAYBE Everton’s post-Europa League fatigue was to blame? Perhaps Adam Johnson’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 – deployed wide on the left and ruffling Seamus Coleman – headed one corner wide and another over, Everton also spurned an inviting chance. When Samuel Eto’o and Lukaku exchanged passes Sunderland’s defence was deceived but Eto’o’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 Gómez tripped the Everton midfielder, then seemed, accidentally, to tread on him. Gómez swiftly saw yellow but several minutes passed before was carried off on a stretcher, his injured leg in a brace, and taken to hospital. “Gareth’s having x-rays,” Roberto Martínez said. “Unfortunately he was just stretching his leg out when he went down.”

Gómez featured in much of Sunderland’s best work and his deft pass to the overlapping left-back Anthony Réveillère (deputising for Patrick van Aanholt, who is to have shoulder surgery and will be out until February) resulted in Sylvain Distin desperately scrambling Réveillère’s ensuing cross-shot to safety.

Although Tim Howard smartly diverted Gómez’s low shot after Sunderland’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 Everton’s box in the face of minimal contact from Phil Jagielka.

Overall Martínez’s side saw more of the ball and generally manipulated it better, leaving Gus Poyet’s players looking distinctly nervous whenever Aiden McGeady and Ross Barkley ran at them.

Impressive as John O’Shea proved in Sunderland’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 Sunderland’s lone striker, Steven Fletcher.

As the bright November sunshine slowly faded Lukaku finally roused himself sufficiently to test Sunderland’s goalkeeper. When Liam Bridcutt conceded possession, opportunity beckoned but a combination of the striker over-running the ball and Pantilimon’s diving save spared Bridcutt’s blushes.

After Lukaku’s next shot struck the outside of a post, Poyet’s mind turned to substitutions. Off came the once again underwhelming Johnson – a talent Sunderland’s manager acknowledges is a shadow of the player he really should be – to be replaced by Will Buckley. The former Brighton winger made an instant impact, his bold sashay forward being rudely abridged by Baines’ 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 Eto’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 – who should arguably have sent off Wickham – was certainly not buying into Sunderland’s somewhat excessive protestations. Following a short delay Baines took the kick. It was far from the left-back’s finest penalty but nonetheless Pantilimon could not prevent the ball passing under his body en route to the back of the net. “It should have been a red card,” Martínez said. “It was a major moment.”

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 “handball”.

“It was tough for the referee today; I wouldn’t have liked to be him,” said Poyet, who liberated Jack Rodwell, once of Everton, from the bench, in place of Gómez.

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.

“It was one of those games that was always in the balance,”Martínez. “We controlled it with ease for long spells but we didn’t use that control to create clear cut opportunities.”

Man of the match Sebastian Larsson (Sunderland) – The Guardian

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