Sunderland fans will be waking up this morning wondering just what happened to their team last night, a team that has seen a great upsurge in fortunes since Martin O’Neill took over, a team that has played with passion and desire in the majority of matches, yet they just didn’t turn up for the most crucial game of the season, and were played off the park at times by an Everton side that showed far great hunger, determination and desire to win.
The score line flattered a poor Sunderland side who could easily have lost by a far greater margin, and apart from Sessegnon hooking a deep corner on to the post from close range in the second half, they created very little until substitute Frazer Campbell spurned a late chance to grab a consolation goal.
Everton have been painfully slow starters to matches recently but last night they came out of the blocks flying and never gave Sunderland time to get a foothold in the match. It was a fast and dominant start that took the Black cats by surprise, and Mignolet was twice called in to action to deny Tim Cahill who was left unmarked from a couple of corners – Due to his remarkable scoring record against Sunderland the poor defending summed up just how below par Martin O’Neills men were on the night, and Everton’s dominance was finally rewarded in the 24th minute as the little known Magaye Gueye cut back a great cross for Nikica Jelovic to slot home with a lovely side footed effort.
This seemed to jolt Sunderland awake as they finally found their feet and produced their best period of play in the match. It had taken nearly half an hour but finally they started keeping possession and looking to create opportunities, however they struggled to find a way through a rock solid defence marshalled brilliantly all night by the imperious Johnny Heitinga and Sylvain Distin. In the 35th minute though Sunderland finally created a great opportunity when an excellent cross from James McClean found Nicklas Bendtner at the far post, but his close range shot was brilliantly blocked by Leighton Baines.
Unfortunately for the 36,000 home fans this was the closest Sunderland came to scoring until Campbell was denied by Tim Howard in injury time, and the away team could have been out of sight long before this with several great chances missed, most notably by Jelovic who fired wide when one on one with Mignolet after being fed by Tim Cahill – who for once didn’t score against his favourite opposition.
Before Jelovic’s miss the game had already been won thanks to a bizarre own goal by substitute David Vaughan, who after gifting possession to Everton in his own half proceeded to put Jelovic’s effort in to his own net. The Everton strikers shot deflected off Mignolet’s torso and looked to be heading wide, but Vaughan under no pressure attempted to clear the ball from inside his six yard area, only to make a complete hash of the clearance and bundle the ball in to his own net. It may have been a freak goal but it gave Everton the breathing space their play deserved, and put the game to bed.
Sunderland fans will be disappointed with how their team played on the night, they were beaten in every department by an Everton team who had the prospect of a mouth-watering tie against local rivals Liverpool at Wembley as an added motivation, but the lack of fight and passion in Sunderland’s play wasn’t what you’d expect from a Martin O’Neill team. Let’s not forget though that he hasn’t even had a full season in charge, and a mid-table finish coupled with an FA Cup quarter final is still a very good result for a season that looked all too much like a relegation battle under the previous manager.
I’m sure you’ll all join me in wishing Everton the best of luck in their semi-final against Liverpool, and despite being disappointed with the result, few Sunderland fans would argue that they fully deserved their place in the last four.
Many thanks to Glen Cardy who provided a great photo for this article.