It was a blustery Boxing Day in the northeast of England, as two sides who have written similar stories this season in Sunderland and Everton met up for the traditional holiday fixture. In the end a draw was probably a fair result based on the run of play, even if the way it was achieved was anything but. Read on for analysis and player ratings...
- It's a depressing feeling, even away from home, to think that a draw is all that you can realistically hope for when your team falls behind 1-0 (to an opponent near the drop zone, no less). Coming into the match, and especially after hearing the team news, I didn't see much of a chance of Everton scoring more than one tally at most, so once the clean sheet was erased a win was probably off the table. Marouane Fellaini missed the match with what's been deemed an abductor strain, and while the injury shouldn't sideline the Belgian for an extended period it did leave David Moyes without a lot of selection options for the midfield. In the end he chose to play two defensive midfielders in Phil Neville and John Heitinga, and the results were predictable. I might have given Barkley a shot, but whatever. We need Jack Rodwell back badly, along with a speedy recovery for Felli.
- It was Sylvain Distin's first start in exactly two months, having last started on October 26 at Stamford Bridge (a fact that Distin has expressed his frustration with on Twitter). As was to be expected, he showed rust at times and had a roller-coaster of a game. The low point was undoubtedly the lone Sunderland goal, on which Distin was an absolute mess. Stephane Sessegnon first left him in the dust at the top of the box before laying off a perfect pass for substitute Jack Colback, and then he compounded the problem by deflecting Colback's shot over Tim Howard and into the net. To be fair, Distin had no choice but to make the challenge and was a bit unlucky not to block the ball away cleanly, and it didn't help that the rest of the defense was running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Distin looked better as the match went on but near the end he almost made another calamitous mistake, avoiding a bad own goal by inches.
- For good measure, Distin topped off his rocky return by wasting a glorious chance to steal all three points for Everton with literally the last kick of the game. For one wonderful moment it appeared that Distin was going to slot home from close range after a chaotic scramble in front of Sunderland keeper Westwood, but the defender blazed his shot over the bar and into the traveling fans as the final whistle blew.
- That was never, ever in a million years a penalty. Leon Osman clearly scuffed his shot and tripped over the ball himself, but Everton were given an incredible stroke of luck when Howard Webb took his time and then inexplicably pointed to the spot. I suppose in real time it may have appeared to the referee as if the two Sunderland players shadowing Osman had pushed him to the grass, but Webb is paid to make calls like this and the fact is that neither defender so much as touched the Everton midfielder.
- Staying on the subject of the penalty, I guess you could give Osman some credit for working his way into a dangerous position, although he was only rewarded because he so badly whiffed on his shot attempt. Still, with the lack of luck Everton have received this year (the Blackburn match notwithstanding), I'll take the goals any way we can get them.
- Yet more frustration for Tim Cahill and Louis Saha, as each player saw his respective goal drought extended. Saha was gifted as free a header as he could ever hope for off a nice corner from Royston Drenthe, but he completely bungled the chance and couldn't even manage to put the ball on target. Cahill's best opportunity came early on in the game when he luckily found himself free off a long pass, but the angle was too severe to do much more than power it into Westwood's arms. Other than those chances, Cahill came somewhat close off another corner, but that was about it for the Everton strike force today.
T. Howard - Looked quite shaky at times, including one wobbly catch that would have been an own goal for the ages. Ultimately though, allowed nothing past him except a deflected strike. 6
L. Baines - Played a great game I thought. Constantly probed down the left-hand side and dispatched the penalty kick with ease. 8
P. Jagielka - A few wayward headers, but overall another strong effort from Jagielka as he continues to play through the pain of a broken toe. 7
S. Distin - Up-and-down in his return, but more down than up. Poor defending on the goal. 5
T. Hibbert - Another honest shift from Hibbert, who has been quite reliable of late. Absolutely class defending on an early chance for Nicklas Bendtner. 8
R. Drenthe (Gueye 74) - Disappointing after his last two games, but he can't be expected to carry the team all the time. Too predictable but needs to stay in the team. 6
P. Neville - Did a little better than last week, I suppose. The road contest suited him better as a holding midfielder. 6
J. Heitinga - I thought he did some good things, but clearly he fits in better as a defender. 5
L. Osman - Had a solid game, including "winning" the penalty, so he's had a hand in each of our last three goals. Good to see he's healthy, too. 7
T. Cahill (McFadden 86) - Huffed and puffed as usual, but that breakthrough goal remains elusive. 6
L. Saha (Vellios 83) - More missed opportunities. I thought Moyes left him on too long; Vellios (and McFadden for that matter) weren't given enough time to make any sort of impact. 5
M. Gueye (substitute 74) - Not much to do but track back in his quarter of an hour. 5
A. Vellios (substitute 83) - Can't rate; not on long enough. N/A
J. McFadden (substitute 86) - Can't rate; not on long enough. N/A
Man of the Match: Leighton Baines