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Everton FC 2 Sunderland 1: Greg O'Keeffe's verdict as Blues hit back hard
Old habits die hard for Everton FC – they conceded first again on Saturday but also, crucially, maintained their enduring ability to overcome Sunderland.
The Blues haven’t lost to the men from the North East for 16 games, and with this hard-fought but ultimately deserved victory they might have weathered a pivotal point in their season. Everton v Sunderland at Goodison Park. Pics Jason Roberts Nov 10 2012 View Trailing to Adam Johnson’s volley just before the end of the first half and with only 13 minutes left, David Moyes’ side were facing the damaging prospect of losing momentum just as those closing in on fourth place in the Premier League behind them appear to be finding it. Relatively early in the campaign it may remain, but falling off the pace at any point can be fatal when you’re chasing a top spot. West Brom are hot on their heels and Andre Villas-Boas’ Spurs are finding their feet, but cometh the hour, cometh the man – and when Everton needed him Marouane Fellaini stood tall even by his usual lofty standards.
The Belgian wants Champions League football next season and is making it clear that while he hopes it is with Everton, he will move on if he has to. But if the enormously effective midfielder keeps playing like this he could yet grace that competition in a royal blue shirt next term. First he single-handedly dragged Everton back into the game, just like at Craven Cottage last weekend, then he provided the sumptuous and perhaps somewhat fortuitous flick which enabled Nikica Jelavic to fire in the winner on 79 minutes. It was only a matter of time before the ruthless predator of Goodison rediscovered his edge, and typically when he did it was with a decisive first-time finish. Jelavic won’t look back now.
This time there was no late sting in the tail, and Everton clung on to stay in fourth place. It had been a patchy performance; in parts brilliant, in parts blunt – but grinding out the victory was all-important. That they had to do it the hard way yet again after conceding first for the seventh consecutive game when Adam Johnson scored for the visitors just before the break remains a problem. In the past David Moyes has wondered whether his side’s evolving attacking flair has made them in turns more open at the back, but frequently the goals they are conceding are not from counter attacks but just poor decision making and uncharacteristically slack grasp of defensive basics.
Still there is plenty of character and spirit among their ranks. Losing the exciting attacking threat of Kevin Mirallas during an entertaining first half, when the Belgian limped off with a hamstring injury, was a serious blow – just as it was in the Merseyside derby – but the Blues kept going.
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