Everton maintained their Champions League push after surviving a nervy affair at the Stadium of Light to emerge with a 1-0 victory, thanks to a 75th minute Wes Brown own goal.
The Toffees rarely looked at their flowing best and were chalk and cheese when compared to the masterful display against Arsenal.
That said, it could have been a very different game if Steven Naismith had taken advantage of a fantastic touch and turn early on. However, the Scot lashed a shot high over the bar from about eight yards as he opted for power.
Sunderland, fighting for their Premier League lives, showed plenty of spirit, with Ki and Cattermole putting in combative displays and nullifying our wide threat, with Leon Osman and Gerard Deulofeu disappointing in lacklustre first half displays.
Whilst Gareth Barry and James McCarthy put on a composed showing in midfield, it was left to John Stones to deny Sunderland an opening goal after a short back pass from Leighton Baines. Fabio Borini raced onto the lapse, rounded Howard but the young defender got back to block balls-first at the near post.
Everton struggled to maintain a coherent attack throughout and the second half saw Sunderland begin to turn the screw as they looked for a priceless win.
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However, it was a stroke of fortune that broke the deadlock. Deulofeu chose to attack the byline on the right, got half a yard and pulled back a cross which deflected agonisingly off the unfortunate Wes Brown and trickled into the net.
Everton couldn´t get a foot on the ball to close out the game, resulting in several heart-stopping moments as Sunderland chased the equaliser – including one solid stop from Howard and a sensational clearance from man of the match John Stones.
The Blues hung on for a critical three points and escaped from a game more reminiscent of the Walter Smith era than the flowing football we see under Martinez. But in this case, three points first, performance second, and we move on to Crystal Palace with 4th place still very much in our sights.