Sunderland 1 Everton 1
Injuries have had a devastating effect on Darron Gibson’s career, so the irony will not be lost on the Everton star that he could be set to benefit from the misfortune of others following a bruising day at the Stadium of Light.
The Republic of Ireland midfielder was last night challenged to fill the void left by the potential absence of Gareth Barry, who while avoiding what was initially feared to be a broken leg, faces a spell out after suffering ankle ligament damage as Everton fought back to earn a deserved point. Gibson is making his way back following a 10 month absence after suffering serious ligament damage representing his country against Kazakhstan last year. The 27-year-old, isn’t yet fully up to speed, as shown when his error almost allowed Jordi Gomez to break the deadlock before half-time in a contest that came to life after the interval.
But the ex-Manchester United player, who is in Martin O’Neill’s squad for the up-coming games against Scotland and the USA, is set to be afforded an opportunity to prove himself.
His return could be doubly valuable to Roberto Martinez, after James McCarthy, Barry’s central midfield partner, suffered a recurrence of a hamstring injury that leaves him a doubt for the Republic.
“Darron’s still trying to get to his desired level of match fitness with the injury he picked up, but we know he’s a phenomenal player,” Martinez said after seeing Leighton Baines’ 76th-minute penalty cancel out a second half free-kick from Seb Larsson to stretch Everton’s six-match unbeaten run. “With his technical ability, it’s great to have Darron back. He’s got such quality, and he helps add to that competition for places.”
The Everton manger initially admitted he was ‘holding his breath’ on Barry, who left the pitch on a stretcher with his right leg in a protective case. He absolved Gomez of any blame, though the player, booked for the 13th minute challenge, was fortunate to escape a second caution for blatant simulation before the break.
Martinez was less charitable when it came to Gomez’s escape from censure for diving. The Everton manager felt Sunderland should have ended the contest with nine men, with Connor Wickham fortunate to avoid a straight red for tripping Seamus Coleman in the area, Baines inflicting full punishment by forcing his spot kick under keeper Costel Pantilimon.
Martinez added: “I was surprised Wickham didn’t get sent off, because once you give a penalty it’s a red card. It would have been a major moment in the game had he got a red.
“Likewise, Gomez was caught simulating. They were two big calls that didn’t go our way.”
Seb Larsson put Sunderland ahead in the 67th-minute with a 25 yard free-kick, after Baines felled substitute Will Buckley.
SUNDERLAND (4-1-4-1) Pantilimon 7; Vergini 6, O’Shea 7, Brown 6, Reveillere 6; Bridcutt 6; Johnson 4 (Buckley 64, 5), Larsson 7, Gomez 6 (Rodwell 81, 5), Wickham 4; Fletcher 4.
EVERTON (4-2-3-1) Howard 7; Coleman 7, Jagielka 7, Distin 7, Baines 7; Barry 5 (Gibson 13, 5), McCarthy 7; McGeady 7 (Naismith 70, 6), Eto’o 7, Barkley 7 (Osman 86, 5); Lukaku 6.
Referee: Lee Mason 6.
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