The visitors made a brisk start to the FA Cup quarter-final tie at Goodison Park, crisply passing the ball in midfield and utilising James McClean’s pace to great effect. It came as no surprise that Sunderland raced into a 12th-minute lead, with Phil Bardsley’s ferociously struck shot from long-range whizzing past Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard and into the bottom right corner. The goal was the product of quick thinking from Jack Colback. With Everton preparing for another trademark Sebastian Larsson free-kick, the 19-year-old rolled the ball to the unmarked Bardsley, who caught out the Toffees defence with a spectacular strike.
Tim Cahill netted his first goal in over a year when Everton secured a 1-0 victory over Blackburn Rovers in January – but a return to form for the Australian forward failed to materialise and another barren run ensued. Cahill, who joined Everton from Millwall for £1.5m in 2004, netted his second goal of the season with a trademark header against the Black Cats on Saturday. Leighton Baines’ cross was met by Nikica Jelavic, and the Croatain inadvertently deflected the ball into Cahill’s path, who instinctively twisted his neck to head the equaliser past Simon Mignolet.
McClean and Royston Drenthe were the two central figures on Merseyside on Saturday. Sunderland’s McClean made the brighter start, immediately testing Everton’s veteran defender Phil Neville, while the Republic of Ireland winger was unafraid to add variety to his play, cutting inside to great effect and causing Johnny Heitinga problems. After the home side weathered an impressive opening 20-minute spell from the Black Cats, Everton’s explosive Drenthe began to see more of the ball, and his constant movement and fiery attitude kept Bardsley pegged back. Moyes will hope to wrangle a reasonable fee and acquire the Dutch midfielder on a permanent basis as the 24-year-old adds a vital sprinkling of flair to an otherwise industrious Everton side.
The key to Sunderland’s revival since Steve Bruce’s sacking and Martin O’Neill’s reign began has been the emergence of Colback and McClean – as well as Fraizer Campball’s return from injury. The trio have become first-team regulars under O’Neill, and have brought relentless energy to a side starting to decay under Bruce. The 60-year-old Black Cats boss has managed to blend experience through the likes of John O’Shea and Larsson, with youth, and it has changed the complexion of Sunderland’s season from the prospect of mid-table mediocrity to a potential top-eight finish.
Sylvain Distin has played an integral role in Everton’s impressive home record recently, beating Chelsea, Manchester City, and Tottenham Hotspur in succession without conceding a goal. The French defender was tasked with marshalling Sunderland’s in-form Campbell, and the pacey 24-year-old was simply unable to break past Distin. The 34-year-old centre-half defied his age to match the England striker’s speed and temper a strong Sunderland start to the game.
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