As if clinching a fourth consecutive great escape wasn’t enough, to condemn their noisy neighbours to the Championship in the process made it just about the perfect occasion as Wearside celebrated kicking the Geordies while they’re down.
Ivory Coast defender Lamine Kone improbably scored in each half as inept Everton were swept away on a tide of emotion at the Stadium of Light. Perhaps the only surprise in a season of the unexpected was that Sam Allardyce’s men sealed safety with a game to spare in opening the trap door for both the Tynesiders and Norwich City, who are unable to bridge the four-point gap on the Wearsiders in Sunday’s final round of fixtures.
“I enjoyed that,” said Allardyce last night. “It should have been five or six and that said everything about us.
“We’re safe with one game to go so that’s pretty miraculous. There’s no way I wanted to go to Watford with anything on the line. You go back into November, Everton beat us 6-2, it shows you how far we’ve come.”
Sunderland celebrated long into the night at saving another seemingly lost cause, another stunning act of escapology under a fourth different boss.
The visitors could soon be looking for another manager themselves as another spineless display left Roberto Martinez’s position looking increasingly vulnerable.
Sunderland all-but sealed victory with two goals in three minutes as their pressure told with half-time approaching. After a foul on Jermain Defoe 25 yards out, Patrick van Aanholt curled in a 38th-minute free-kick which Joel Robles totally misjudged as the ball found virtually the centre of the net.
Robles partially made amends with a fine reaction save to deny Defoe’s header, but from the ensuing corner the hosts doubled their advantage. Robles failed to clear Khazri’s set-piece, and when the ball fell for Kone unmarked six yards out, the big defender sent a thundering volley into the roof of the net for a nerve-soothing second and his first goal for the club.
Sunderland went for the kill and poured forward after the break, with Everton fortunate to avoid shipping half a dozen, as the Wearsiders had at Goodison Park in November.
The Merseyside club have rarely scaled such heights in the subsequent six months, hitting a new low with the no-show in the 3-1 defeat at champions Leicester. In contrast, Sunderland had been on the front foot from the start in the 3-2 victory over Chelsea, and backed by another buoyant near sell-out, they set about unsettling the Toffees from the off in their quest to seal their salvation with their first back-to-back victories for almost six months.
Everton’s back-four dropped deep to negate the threat of the ball over the top for Defoe, but the alert forward lifted the flagging atmosphere when he almost blocked a hurried Robles clearance after he was sold short by an awful backpass from recalled centre-back Ramiro Funes Mori.
With the crowd involved, Younes Kaboul went within inches of scoring from the edge of the area as the defender popped up in the most unexpected of attacking positions. His back four colleagues van Aanholt and Kone showed him how it should be done soon after to put the hosts within reach of survival.
Matthew Pennington hacked a Defoe effort off the line soon after the restart, before Kone put the outcome beyond doubt with his effort before the break. Van Aanholt almost doubled his personal tally, and although Funes Mori and Gareth Barry forced late saves from Vito Mannone, and Romelu Lukaku struck the bar in stoppage time, the celebrations were in full swing, as the inquiry continued for their neighbours from Tyneside. If they had been watching, no doubt by this point, they would have long-since turned off.
Mannone 8; Yedlin 8, Kone 9, Kaboul 8, van Aanholt 8; Kirchhoff 7 (Larsson 70, 6); Borini 7, Cattermole 7(O’Shea 79), M’Vila 7, Khazri 8 (Watmore 86, 6); Defoe 8. Substitutes: Pickford, Jones, Rodwell, N’Doye.
Robles 2; Pennington 6, Stones 5, Funes Mori 4, Baines 4; McCarthy, Barry; Mirallas, Barkley 4 (Lennon 46, ), Cleverley 6 (Osman 84, 5); Lukaku. Substitutes: Howard, Gibson, Oviedo, Niasse, Besic.
A Taylor (Wythenshawe)