Everton came from behind to record a second successive Premier League draw thanks to Leighton Baines's penalty with a quarter of an hour to go.
The fullback buried a spot-kick after Seamus Coleman had been felled by Conor Whickham, cancelling out Sebastian Larsson's goal from a direct free kick 10 minutes earlier.
The Blues side featured three changes from the team that beat Lille, with Samuel Eto'o starting up front with Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley coming in for Leon Osman and Coleman returning from an ankle injury.
A neat interchange between Lukaku and Eto'o served up a great chance for the latter in the third minute but the Cameroonian fired wide while Wickham headed a couple of early chances wide for the hosts.
The Blues were rocked by another early and serious-looking injury before 10 minutes had elapsed, though, when Jordi Gomez caught Gareth Barry with a late tackle and the midfielder, who had undergone a late fitness test on his ankle before being named in the starting XI, had to be stretchered off to be replaced by Darron Gibson.
Gomez somehow avoided a second yellow card before half an hour had elapsed when he was whistled for trying to deceive referee Lee Mason into giving a penalty against Phil Jagielka. Meanwhile, Aiden McGeady flashed a shot narrowly wide and Lee Bridcutt blocked well to deny Ross Barkley at one end and Tim Howard saved from Gomez at the other after hesitation in possession from Gibson.
The second half was just five minutes old when Lukaku had a great opportunity to open the scoring when he intercepted Bridcutt's backpass but he tried to round the goalkeeper and Pantilimon smothered the ball to snuff out the chance.
And the Belgian was foiled again by the Romanian five minutes later when he tipped Lukaku's powerful drive onto the post as Everton tried to make the breakthrough.
It was the home side who scored first, though, after Gus Pouyet had introduced Will Buckley in place of Adam Johnson and the substitute's direct running prompted a clumsy foul by Baines in a dangerous area. Larsson stepped up and smashed the ball through a gaping hole in the defensive wall leaving Howard with no chance.
The Blues responded with increased tempo and got their reward when Eto'o, pulling strings now in the no.10 role, threaded a beautiful pass through the Sunderland defence for Coleman who was chopped down by Wickham near the penalty spot. Once more referee Mason failed to produce the red card, this time for the denial of a clear goalscoring opportunity, but Baines levelled things up by firing under the goalkeeper.
The big push for a winner never really materialised from Everton, though, despite largely dictating the final quarter of an hour, while James McCarthy, hobbling with an apparent upper leg muscle injury, hooked the ball off his own line in injury time as Sunderland had one last go.
The point leaves Everton 10th in the table, above Liverpool now on goal difference, but still with just three League wins from 11 games.
Roberto Martinez named a lively-looking side with an attacking spearhead of McGeady, Barkley and Eto'o behind Lukaku. Coleman was declared fit and Distin secured his first Premier League start for almost two months.
The game started brightly with Sunderland winning a corner that was headed just wide. Barkley then ran the ball down the left touchline but launched a fairly tame shot direct at Pantillimon although the next move saw some wonderful inter-passing through the middle between Lukaku and Eto'o, the Cameroonian firing hard but high and wide when he might have taken a split second to make sure his shot was on target. A second corner for Sunderland, Wickham heading onto the roof of the net.
Barry's ankle was clipped hard in a late challenge by Gomez that saw the Sunderland player get an early yellow card but Barry's injury led to a long stoppage and turned out to appear very serious, the physio calling for a stretcher, with Gibson coming on in his place inside 15 mins.
This disrupted Everton and they took a while to regroup, but started to press the home side with some intent but no real end product, Gibson and Lukaku lashing shots well away from the goal, as Sunderland adopted an increasingly packed defence. Lukaku had a comedy moment, his first touch deserting him along with his balance as the big man stumbled on the ball and fell over flat on his back.
Sunderland demanded a penalty when Gomez ran into Jagielka and threw himself to the ground: simulation a correct decision by Mason who then booked McCarthy for some challenge after Barkley had fashioned a good moved down the right this time, but Lukaku's header off his cross was weak. Sunderland then got behind the Everton defence and Distin had to clear as the cross evaded Howard. At the other end, a fierce effort by McGeady just curled away from the far post at the last second.
Barkley then ran through the middle in a move that looked for all the world like the opening goal but he struck the return ball from McGeady straight at the heels of a defender blocking the line to goal. Gibson was guilty of horrible indecision in the Everton area and had his pocket picked, a a good shot needed a remarkable save from Howard and another corner conceded.
Everton were doing a good job getting to the edge of the Sunderland area, but the final shot or ball in seemed to be always lacking something; Pantilimon had not really been troubled despite the stats saying the Blues had a number of shots on target. Sunderland seemed buoyed by Everton's inability to score and attacked with decent pace when they had the chance, putting the Everton defence under some good pressure.
In the four minutes of added time, Barkley got himself in a great position to do some real damage but Lukaku was mysteriously way away from play, out on the left and the young star had only the option to spoon the ball well over the goal. The first half incredibly ended goalless, Everton, a side with brilliant attacking potential that were totally devoid of meaningful attacking tactics, as if Roberto Martinez had just told them simply to go out there and enjoy themselves, but with no real plan or discipline for actually scoring goals.
The second half started with a frustrating spell of non-progressive Everton passing in midfield that after an interminable time finally saw Barkley advance only to fire well high and wide yet again. Some nice work down the left and this time Lukaku laid the ball back nicely for Barkley but his shot lacked any real power. Bridcutt played Everton's best incisive pass of the game, playing in Lukaku for the opening goal, only for the big man to hesitate at the crucial moment rather than shoot, and Pantillimon was able to bundle the ball away from him.
Coleman did well to get the ball off Reveillere but went down easily as he laid the ball back to a red & white shirt and the frustration continued, Baines finally getting forward with Barkley but his cross hits the defender. Baines got a better cross in, right to Lukaku's feet but, instead of trapping the ball, it flew back off him at twice the velocity! Lukaku then got in a good position on the left of the Sunderland area and lashed another shot off the outside of the post.
The second memorable highlite came when McCarthy took out Lee Mason, who got in his way. Buckley tempted Baines into giving up a dangerous free-kick that Larsson fired well through the less-than solid Blue wall to give Sunderland a precious lead, Everton with only themselves to blame. Naismith replaced the frustrating McGeady with 20 minutes to salvage an impending disaster.
Finally a decent Everton move: Eto'o playing in Coleman who's cross to Lukaku was intercepted. But Baines's corner was floated in high, too easy pickings for Pantillimon. More brilliance from Eto'o played in Coleman who looked to fire home but Wickham scythes him down, just catching the ball with his leading foot. But no red card for denying a clear goalscoriing opportunity. Sunderland were furious but the decision was correct and Baines hammered it in beneath the diving Pantillimon to put Everton back in the game.
Jack Rodwell replaced Gomez. The Blues played it well through the middle in another promising move that end up clipping off Lukaku and out for a goalkick. Osman then replaced Barkley and Sunderland really should have scored when Buckley got in behind the Everton defence, but thankfully Fletcher was a foot behind it.
The ball continued to bounce off Lukaku, and then, one of the most bizarre pieces of goalkeeping by Howard sent the Stadium of Light into apoplexy, falling on a slow backpass just outside the penalty box, pinning the ball momentarily with his body, not his hands, much to the anger of the home crowd and side. Everton advanced again but the move broke down again with Lukaku's dreadful hold-up play, passing the ball backward again but this time to nobody.
Sunderland looked to have secured the winner but McCarthy was in the right place to scoop a goalbound header off the Everton line with Howard beaten. A tremendous run by Coleman, the length of the field won a corner at the death that Everton could not convert. A crazy game full of frustrations that will go down as another opportunity for Blues advancement spurned. Very much the story of the season so far...
With the campaign in Europe continuing to go according to plan, Everton return to Premier League action trying once more to establish some momentum on the domestic front following last weekend's disappointing draw with Swansea.
The Blues saw off Lille in confident fashion on Thursday night and fans making the trip to Wearside this Sunday will be hoping for a repeat of the League result that followed the first meeting with the French side last month. That 0-0 draw was followed by a 3-1 defeat of Burnley and Everton take on another team struggling for form this time in the form of Sunderland.
Gus Poyet's side scored a handsome win of their own last Monday when they took down Crystal Palace on their own turf but that was only their second win of the season and it came in the wake of 8-0 drubbing at the hands of Southampton and a 2-0 home defeat to Arsenal.
Nevertheless, they come into the weekend just two points behind Everton, which perhaps speaks volumes about the Blues' patchy record over the first quarter of the season. Roberto Martinez has overseen just one more win than his opposite number – and yet his side remain just four points off the coveted top four places.
In that search for consistency and momentum, Martinez will have been hugely encouraged by Everton's performance against Lille under the Goodison lights the other night. They comprehensively dismantled the Great Danes on the back of impressive displays by James McCarthy, Aiden McGeady, Steven Naismith and Romelu Lukaku.
The Belgian striker may not have scored but he looked fitter and sharper than perhaps at any point in the season thus far and that bodes well for the trip to Sunderland and beyond. It also suggests he will be in the starting XI at the Stadium of Light, perhaps with goalscorer Steven Naismith and Samuel Eto'o in a repeat of the attacking trio that put Burnley to the sword.
Eto'o has only started one of the two games since he scored twice at Turf Moor and he could be due for a recall. That would, of course, make it difficult to incorporate Ross Barkley into the side but it's a conundrum that the manager will continue to face while the bulk of his squad is fit. Steven Pienaar was another player who sat out against Lille and could come in for Leon Osman, while Darron Gibson and Muhamed Besic will be on standby should Gareth Barry fail a late fitness test on an ankle injury.
Seamus Coleman will also be assessed before the game to determine whether a cut to his heel has healed sufficiently to allow him to play. Tony Hibbert is the likely deputy should the Irishman be forced to remain on the sidelines while Sylvain Distin is expected to continue at centre half alongside Phil Jagielka.
Though they will have been buoyed by their win in South London and top scorer Steven Fletcher's brance, as that awful showing at Southampton showed the Black Cats are susceptible to conceding goals. That presents an opportunity for an Everton side who carved out three goals in the Europa League this past week after being shut out for the first time in the Premier League by Swansea five days earlier.
While no away match is ever a banker, this is certainly a fixture that a Blues side aiming for Champions League qualification should be winning and, certainly, if everything comes together as Evertonians would expect, then three points should be in the offing. It will take a more imaginative and incisive performance than was the case against the Swans, though.
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