Phil Neville returned to the bench after his long injury layoff, while Everton come to the Stadium of Light on the back of four successive wins without conceding a goal... quite some record to emulate today.
Fellaini cleared the first free-kick, Howard punched out, Jones was pulled back for a high boot. Baines won the first corner with a very poor cross after good football down the left. Osman gave away the next free-kick and a free header that Bent put over. The pattern seemed set with lots of good high crosses from Sunderland into the Everton goal area.
Some great football set up Osman for a delightfully placed shot to stroke the ball home with a beautiful curling strike from the edge of the area that beat Fulop ... only it skinned the outside of the post. More good football after an awful high looping corner from Baines saw Bily feed Saha but his quick low strike flew just wide. Saha broke again off a great ball from Pienaar but could not get his foot around the ball.
Jones got a shot on goal when he outfoxed Neill but Howard saved; however the next attack totally undid the Everton defence, Jones breaking well when released by Bent, and crossing perfectly for Bent, storming forward, to power home an unstoppable header. Bent came close after a comical deflection and Neill was well placed to block away a certain second goal as Everton rocked a little after failing to get that early goal.
Everton got more of the ball on the half-hour, and holding their own more, building some pretty attacks with some nice looking football... but again it was the final ball that was seriously lacking, another poor Baines corner typically hitting the first defender. A nasty looking challenge by Mensah on Saha deserved a straight red but Atkinson only showed him a yellow.
Cahill elbowed Mensah in the throat and earned a yellow card. Off the free-kick, Fellaini was all over Jones, giving away a very dangerous one that Neill headed off the line in front of Howard. More nice work just before the break saw Bily set up a beautiful cross, perfectly weighted... but absolutely no-one there to profit from it!
First corner after the break, and Fellaini headed wide. Hibbert and Osman down the right conspired to win another corner. Cahill and Saha on a break, but Cahill's pass was hopelessly short and the chance was snuffed out by Mensah. Fellaini then fed Saha nicely but the ball just would not run for him.
Baines finally put in a good cross at speed but it was headed out for a corner, and off the second the ball came back fast to Saha but he lashed it wide from 15 yards.
Zendon came on for Malbranque and Sunderland breifly looked better for it, while Everton visibly faded but Moyes, as ever, sat on his hands for a while longer, almost waiting for Sunderland to get their second. Howard was forced to save well of Da Silva from a free kick as the Everton defence quaked. Yakubu finally came on to replace Osman with barely 20 mins left to rescue the game. Mensah, who had been the best home defender, succumbed to a knee injury and went off
Saha got booked for a raised boot. Pienaar shot well from distance and that too spun fractionally wide. Saha got another half-chance but he failed to lash it first time and it was gone. Moyes dithered about bringing on Vaughan... and then decided against it
Down to the last 10 mins, and yet the pattern of the match remained much the same, Everton unable to force any real pressure on Fulop despite some excellent approach play. A poor challenge by Reid poleaxed Pienaar but he went unpunished. Another trio of Baines corners seemed to come to nothing but persistent work and a cross from Howard was not cleared, falling to Fellaini who lashed it into the roof of the net.
With 4 mins left, Vaughan finally came on in place of Saha, Everton on a high a and pushing hard for a winner. Bily was booked for a foul on Jones as the game entered 3 mins of added time. Yakubu kept harrying and Pienaar kept crossing, and the 3 mins was up without further progress. A point saved, but the performance really merited a convincing win that this team currently seems incapable of delivering.
Having banished it so effectively from the Everton lexicon for the last five seasons, David Moyes is once again having the discuss the "R"-word in his press conferences as the Blues approach the halfway point of the season looking nervously over their shoulders. He'll know as well as anybody, as he paced the sidelines through a fourth-successive draw, that if you earn a point in every League game, you still fall short of the magical 40-point mark that usually guarantees safety in the Premier League.
Moyes will also know that relegated sides rarely dominate matches to the extent that his charges have in their last two outings and he'll no doubt be perplexed at how this team are not sitting two points above Sunderland going into the last fixture of 2009 instead of three points behind them.
Just as they did last weekend against Birmingham, Everton controlled this match from start to finish but again couldn't turn that superiority into three points. Indeed, their performance was turning from one of focused determination to desperation in the closing stages when Marouane Fellaini lashed home an 85th-minute equaliser to cancel out Darren Bent's first-half opener.
As expected, the manager fielded an unchanged line-up from the team that started against Birmingham and though Sunderland had an early chance when Bent headed not far wide in the sixth minute, it was the Blues who made the more enterprising start. And they were inches away from taking the lead inside 10 minutes when, at the end of a terrific move that saw the excellent Steven Pienaar probing on the edge of the box and trying to find Louis Saha, Leon Osman picked up the ball from John Mensah's tackle and dispatched a side-footed effort off the outside of the post.
Two more chances for Saha followed in quick succession, the first set up by Diniyar Bilyaletdinov's pass but dragged wide, the second coming from Pienaar's threaded ball but the Frenchman took it early and slid a low shot across goal and behind.
The home side had barely been in the contest up to that point but Kenwyn Jones forced the first save from Tim Howard, albeit a fairly simple one, after controlling with his chest and shooting low, before the Black Cats took the lead totally against the run of play.
Bent headed a long ball into his strike partner's path down the right flank and accelerated into the area to meet Jones's inch-perfect cross. Having burst between John Heitinga and Lucas Neill, Bent had the simple task of powering a header past Howard to make it 1-0. The advantages of two in-tune frontmen with pace and power at work.
One goal almost became two four minutes later when Leighton Baines's attempted clearance at the touchline cannoned off Phil Bardsley and Henderson raced to the byline to pick up the ricochet. He crossed low to Bent but his goalbound effort was blocked by Neill and Bilyaletdinov hacked the loose ball to safety.
A minute after that, Jones again found the space to deliver a telling cross but this time the recipient was Andy Reid and he wasted the chance by looping a header into no-man's land and it dropped behind.
Everton, having had their mo-jo knocked out of them by the goal, recovered around the half-hour mark and resumed their strangehold on proceedings with some concerted pressure, but clear-cut chances remained elusive.
Pienaar provided Saha with a decent one, though, with more excellent work on the edge of the area but the Frenchman couldn't make proper contact and he shinned it wide. The South African then saw a shot deflect off a defender and loop onto the top of the goal but the resulting corner from Baines didn't beat the first man.
The Blues' problem, as it so often is, was that they were effectively attacking with one arm tied behind their back seeing as nine in ten attacks had to come down the left side through the Baines-Pienaar partnership. In contrast to their familiar and often profitable link-up play, Tony Hibbert's attacking deficiencies meant that he rarely ventured forward and Bilyaletdinov was more often than not a spectator down the right.
Up front, Saha was too often dropping deep or out wide, thereby taking the most lethal component of the Blues' Arsenal out of the danger zone, and though Tim Cahill was more or less playing up front in a 4-4-2, it wasn't a conventional two-man attack given the Australian's own midfield bias and lack of real pace.
So their ascendancy in the first half bore no fruit and it was Sunderland who had the last chance before the break when Fellaini was adjudged to have handled just outside the area and Reid curled a direct free-kick goalwards. Neill had cleverly back-tracked from the defensive wall as Reid was preparing his kick and though Howard had it covered, the defender headed the shot off the line.
The pattern established in the first 45 minutes continued unabated after the interval and Fellaini had a good chance to level inside two minutes of the restart but headed Baines's corner a foot wide of the back post.
Six minutes later, a second-successive corner from Baines was flicked on by Bilyaletdinov, deflected off a defender, and sat up nicely for Saha but he volleyed a yard wide.
It wasn't until the hour mark that the Black Cats threatened Howard's goal again when substitute Bolo Zenden had his first shot after coming on but it was easily gathered before the American acrobatically tipped Da Silva's far-post header over following another Reid free kick.
In the main, though, it was one-way traffic towards the Sunderland goal and Moyes added some urgency and firepower with 20 minutes left by withdrawing Osman and throwing on Yakubu. Still, though, the killer ball in the final third was lacking and the Blues couldn't press home all that dominance.
Pienaar flashed a superb shot just wide from 20 yards and Saha should have done better from 14 but hooked his effort wide as time ticked on.
If there are stand-out criticisms of Moyes, they're that he doesn't persist with things that have clearly worked in other matches (for example, the effectiveness of two up front against Chelsea) and often favours loyalty to players over playing his best side, in this case his preference for Hibbert over Seamus Coleman.
The young Irishman's electric performance against Tottenham amply demonstrated what he can add to the team going forward and Everton's frustrated attempts to break Sunderland down could have done with that extra dimension down the right flank where Bilyaletdinov was still a peripheral figure.
It was somewhat ironic, then when one of Hibbert's crosses beat the first man, deflected off a defender and fell to the feet of Fellaini eight yards from the goal. The Belgian took one touch, rifled it emphatically high into the net and then wheeled away in fist-clenched delight to the away supporters massed behind the goal.
It was no more than Everton deserved — indeed, their display was easily deserving of all three points — and it set up the opportunity for them to grab a late winner but, though James Vaughan was thrown on for the last four minutes in place of Saha, he wasn't to get an opportunity and the home side had the only chance in injury time, Henderson driving wide from 20 yards.
Ultimately, Moyes will be glad that his side was able to salvage a draw but he'll be frustrated that they couldn't make it five wins in succession at the Stadium of Light. Instead, he was left to rue his players' failure to carve out enough chances and the fact that they've only won one of their last 13 games in the Premier League.
Monday's home game against Burnley offers a real chance to close 2009 on a high, though, and with a bit more boldness in team selection, the opportunity for a comprehensive victory is there. With no home wins since mid-September, though, the manager won't be taking anything for granted.
Howard 6, Hibbert 7, Neill 7, Heitinga 7, Baines 7, Fellaini 7, Osman 6 (Yakubu 6), Bilyaletdinov 6, Pienaar 8*, Cahill 6, Saha 7
Everton travel to Wearside this Boxing Day hoping to give their traveling fans the Christmas present of three points after the disappointment of Sunday's home draw with Birmingham City. Despite exhibiting easily the best 20-minute spell of incisive passing football seen all season and dominating the match, the Blues couldn't find the elusive winner (at least not one that the match officials would allow them) and a winless run at Goodison that stretches back to mid-September remained intact.
David Moyes's men have won as many away from home this season as they have away and it's those two victories on the road that are keeping them out of the bottom three heading into the festive program. Sitting just two points above the drop zone and having fallen a massive 15 points behind fifth place, Everton know that they have to start putting a winning run together now if they are to have any hope of qualifying for Europe once more among heavy competition for the available places.
If there is a glimmer of hope if is the manner of that performance against Birmingham where, with Steven Pienaar and Leon Osman pulling the strings in midfield and Louis Saha terrorising up front, the Blues finally looked like the team that could have given the top four a run for their money this season if only key players had been available from the start.
With no fresh injury concerns — Jack Rodwell remains ruled out until mid-January, Jo is doubtful again with a knee injury, Sylvain Distin and Joseph Yobo are sidelined by hamstring strains and Phil Neville has yet to resume full training — Moyes could field an unchanged line-up at Sunderland this weekend in what will be a tricky fixture.
Steve Bruce's side have beaten Arsenal and Liverpool at the Stadium of Light already this season but it's been over a month since they last won on home turf.
The Black Cats will be captained by former Everton transfer target Lorik Cana but will be without the injured Steed Malbranque and the suspended Michael Turner, the latter was handed a four-match ban for an elbow against Manchester City last week.
|Premier League Scores|
|Premier League Table|
|2009-10 Reports Index|
|When Skies Are Grey||Report|
|Everton fans' reports|
|Other media reports|
|4 the Game||Report|
|Mensah :37' (70' Nosworthy)|
|Malbranque (58' Zendon)|
|Subs not used|
|Osman (69' Yakubu)|
|Saha :72' (86' Vaughan)|
|Subs not used|
|Premier League Scores|
|Saturday 26 December 2009|
|Saturday 26 December 2009|
|Hull City||1-3||Man Utd|
|Premier League Table|
|After 27 Dec 2009|