Everton boss David Moyes left Sunderland a satisfied man after seeing his side fight back to snatch a point.
The Toffees trailed 1-0 at the break to Darren Bent’s 11th goal of the season, but were left in little doubt that even a draw would be less than their performance deserved.
However, Moyes was happy enough to leave Wearside with a point which extended their recent unbeaten league run to four games after midfielder Marouane Fellaini smashed home an 85th-minute equaliser.
He said: “They [the players] are disappointed, but there is a bit more steel in their eyes at the moment.
“They know the levels they are going to have to play at now and I thought the way we played today was very similar to how we played at our best last year.
“What we did have was we were scoring, we were finishing things off, and we just didn’t have that final bit today.
“If we had got anything less, it would have been robbery. I told the players at half-time I would be disappointed with a point because I thought we had played so well in the first half.
“But I thought we were even better in the second half, so I am not disappointed with a point because the performance was good enough to earn more.”
Sunderland, just as they were against Portsmouth a fortnight ago, were made to pay for not killing off a game at the Stadium of Light when Fellaini struck at the death.
Bent’s 17th-minute header from Kenwyne Jones’ cross had given them a deserved lead, although the England international might have claimed a hat-trick inside the opening 21 minutes.
But Everton too had their chances, with Leon Osman clipping the outside of the post after just six minutes and Louis Saha twice firing wide.
It was they who made much of the running after the break, with Fellaini and Saha both going agonisingly close.
And as the home side dropped ever deeper in an attempt to protect their narrow lead, Fellaini controlled Tony Hibbert’s right-wing cross and blasted home from close range.
Asked if he is confident his side can climb away from relegation trouble, Moyes said: “If you look at how we played today, the players will not be in that position come the end of the season.
“And we have still got 10 to come back, so we will get those 10 back and we will have a bit of competition in the team and hopefully be able to move up a bit more.
“But we have played well in recent weeks.”
Black Cats boss Steve Bruce was disappointed as his side conceded a late equaliser for the second time in three home games after also seeing Portsmouth snatch a point with a late goal.
He said: “It’s hugely disappointing when it happens to you once, never mind twice, but I suppose it’s just that run we are on at the minute.
“Everybody gets nervous. We got deeper and we went too deep and really didn’t do our jobs properly, unfortunately.
“But it is understandable with the run we are on. We just need to see one of these games out.
“We need to see Portsmouth out or we need to see today out, but overall, I think a draw was possibly a fair result.”
To make matters worse for Bruce, who has central defender Michael Turner suspended for another three games and Anton Ferdinand still on the casualty list, John Mensah picked up a hamstring injury which is likely to keep him out of Monday’s trip to Blackburn.
Midfielder Lee Cattermole missed today’s game with a similar injury picked up in training yesterday.