Mikel Arteta shines as Everton stroll to victory

28 December 2008 05:39
Strikers may be an endangered species at Goodison Park, Everton having ruined Ricky Sbragia's first match as 'permanent' Sunderland manager by winning at a canter without a recognised forward in their starting line-up, but the old-fashioned playmaker is alive and well in the shape of Mikel Arteta.

The Basque with the balletic feet made light of his club's problems with injured attackers by scoring twice - his first goals in three months - and helping to create the third for 18-year-old Dan Gosling. Everton's second win in three days, and only their second at home this season, kept them three points behind fourth-placed Arsenal, while leaving Sunderland just two above the relegation zone.

Sbragia, who shed the 'caretaker' half of his job description by signing an 18-month contract on Saturday, was asked if he took any positives from the defeat. 'Not really,' the 52-year-old Scot shrugged, though he could have said that the result was an improvement on his first match as Roy Keane's coach, a 7-1 defeat at Everton.

This time Sunderland lost Anton Ferdinand and Andy Reid to stomach bugs overnight, but Sbragia did not use their indisposition as an excuse for a display featuring a solitary shot on target. 'Everton were far superior to us,' he said. 'I'd spoken about not giving away free-kicks around the box, but we did it twice and paid the penalty for it.'

The first goal came after Kieran Richardson, playing out of position at left-back, fouled Leon Osman. From 22 yards, Arteta drove the free-kick through a defensive wall that looked as if it had been built by rogue traders, leaving Marton Fulop clawing at air as the ball tore past him. Sunderland obliged Arteta again when Steed Malbranque felled Steven Pienaar. From a similar range, the midfielder's free-kick came back to him off the line of defenders, but he reacted quickly to volley the ball past Fulop with the aid of a deflection off Teemu Tainio.

With seven minutes remaining and Arteta going through his repertoire of pirouettes and passes, Everton again showed that strikers can be superfluous. Arteta's pass sent Joleon Lescott through for a shot that reached Gosling, the former Plymouth player side-footing his first senior goal to earn a round of applause from his team-mates when they returned to the dressing-room.

In the absence of David Moyes, Everton's assistant manager Steve Round hoped 'organisation and spirit' would compensate for a shortfall in finance when it came to challenging for a Champions League place. Sbragia, meanwhile, outlined a more modest ambition: 'To stay in the Premier League.'

Source: Telegraph