WES BROWN’S own goal inflicted a sixth defeat in seven Premier League outings on luckless Sunderland, as the Black Cats edged ever closer to the drop.
Sunderland performed as well as they had done since last month’s Capital One Cup final, yet were left cursing their fortunes with 15 minutes to go when Brown sent the ball beyond Vito Mannone - the sixth own goal the Wearsiders have conceded in the Premier League this season.
Gus Poyet’s side had been a match for Champions League-chasing Everton up to that point, with Fabio Borini seeing a first half effort cleared off the line.
Sunderland pushed hard for a leveller after Everton broke the deadlock, with Borini and Ki Sung-Yueng going close, but the top flight’s basement boys endured the familiar taste of defeat as they remained seven points adrift of safety with six games to go.
Gus Poyet went back to basics in his starting line-up by reverting to a 4-1-4-1 formation.
Connor Wickham, Jack Colback and John O’Shea returned to the side, with Santiago Vergini, Carlos Cuellar and Liam Bridcutt missing out - the latter absent due to his wife being in labour.
Wickham led the line up front, with Fabio Borini and Adam Johnson either side of the England Under-21 striker, while Colback joined Lee Cattermole and Ki Sung-Yueng in central midfield.
Everton boss Roberto Martinez made just one change from the side which beat Arsenal, with Gerard Deulofeu taking the place of Kevin Mirallas.
The Toffees monopolised possession in the opening exchanges, yet it was Sunderland who produced the first meaningful effort in the sixth minute.
Phil Bardsley played a free-kick low into the feet of Fabio Borini, who hit a shot on the turn which was high and wide of the near post.
It was the start of a good spell from Sunderland, who put Everton on the back foot and the crowd responded.
Steven Naismith missed a glorious chance to break the deadlock in the 14th minute though after producing a slick turn away from Wes Brown, 12 yards out, from Leighton Baines’ low ball into the area.
Naismith had the goal at his mercy, but spooned his right-footed shot over the bar.
A goal-line clearance from John Stones denied Borini a 31st minute opener after the Italian pounced on Baines’ weak back pass.
Borini went round Everton keeper Tim Howard and sent a right-footed shot goalwards, yet Stones did superbly to race back and clear off the line.
Moments later, Romelu Lukaku hit a left-footed shot on the turn from 15 yards which was deflected behind for a corner.
James McCarthy produced a magnificent last-gasp tackle three minutes before the interval after Marcos Alonso played in Adam Johnson down the right-hand side of the area, only for the Everton midfielder to recover and block the ball behind.
HALF-TIME Sunderland 0 Everton 0
Sunderland began the second half well and saw more of the ball than Everton in the opening stages, albeit they struggled to create anything clear-cut.
In the 57th minute, Phil Bardsley met Johnson’s corner from the left at the back post and headed the ball back into the six-yard box.
Baines headed the ball cross from a yard off the line before Wickham’s shot was blocked in a crowded area.
Moments later, Johnson sent in an inswinging cross from the right which found Ki Sung-Yueng at the far post, two yards out, but after a faint touch from Howard, the South Korean could only send his header wide.
Deulofeu then skinned Alonso down the right flank, charged into the area and whistled a right-footed shot agonisingly across the face of goal.
Vito Mannone had a big escape in the 62nd minute after he raced out of his goal to meet Howard’s hoof forwards, but could only send his header straight into the path of Naismith.
But with an open goal to aim at, Naismith could only send his volley into the side netting.
Substitute Ross Barkley had a chance two minutes later when he met Lukaku’s cross from the left, six yards out, but he couldn’t generate any power with his improvised volley and Mannone was able to divert it behind.
Howard showed clean handling in the 66th minute when he gathered Alonso’s low drive to his left after the Spaniard had been played in by Cattermole’s back-heel.
But with 15 minutes to go, Everton broke the deadlock via the most fortuitous of routes as Wes Brown sent the ball into his own net.
Deulofeu beat Alonso down the right, got to the by-line and sent back a right-footed cross which deflected off Brown and beat Mannone at his near post.
Sunderland had a chance to level in the 79th minute when Johnson pulled the ball back to Ki, just inside the Everton area.
The on-loan Swansea man’s shot was weak though and Howard was able to gather at the second attempt.
Borini then went desperately close in the 84th minute as curled in a right-footed shot from 25 yards which drifted just the wrong side of the post.
FULL-TIME Sunderland 0 Everton 1
SUNDERLAND: Mannone, Bardsley, O’Shea, Brown, Alonso, Ki, Cattermole, Colback (Larsson 70), Johnson, Wickham, Borini. Subs not used: Gardner, Cuellar, Vergini, Giaccherini, Scocco, Ustari. Booked: Johnson (18), Bardsley (54), Larsson (88)
EVERTON: Howard, Coleman, Stones, Distin, Baines, Osman (Barkley 58), Barry, McCarthy, Deulofeu (McGeady 78), Lukaku, Naismith. Subs not used: Robles, Hibbert, Alcaraz, Garbutt, Mirallas. Booked: Coleman (53), Distin (90)
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