Football Echo Verdict: Great week ends on a huge high

Stephane Sessegnon is mobbed after scoring Sunderland's winner
Stephane Sessegnon is mobbed after scoring Sunderland's winner
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WEARSIDE has enjoyed its week.

The 90 minutes on Tyneside could barely have been scripted better by anyone on the terraces, and the fall-out has only maintained those cemented smiles on faces.

Whether it has been replays of Di Canio’s slide down the touchline, comments from those responsible for the horse-play outside at St James’s Park or even Alan Pardew’s petty remarks about their rivals’ lack of European football, Sunderland has been a buoyant place.

Yesterday it got even better, as the end to the derby curse was followed by the end to the Everton curse.

Sunderland have endured some harrowing moments against the Toffees over the last 12 years; the 7-1 rout at Goodison Park, last season’s FA Cup capitulation and the almost continuous sight of Tim Cahill peeling away to celebrate.

But the Black Cats picked their moment to end the hoodoo yesterday.

It was crucial for Sunderland to maintain the momentum from the derby, particularly as supporters had turned up in such numbers and in such healthy voice.

Even a draw would have been a positive result in the relegation battle.

But to record all three, and leapfrog Newcastle in the process, leaves Sunderland’s survival prospects looking increasingly rosy.

One more win should be sufficient and is a more than achievable target as Paolo Di Canio’s side head into three successive encounters against sides around them in the table, backed by confidence, rather than nerves.

That transformation in self-belief, both in the dressing room and in the stands, has been quite staggering though.

Just three weeks ago, Sunderland limped and staggered to a stodgy 1-0 defeat to Manchester United, where the Premier League leaders barely switched the gear stick out of neutral.

Yesterday, they were everything they weren’t in Martin O’Neill’s last game in charge, as Sunderland returned to the Stadium of Light.

With doggedness and determination, Sunderland charged into Everton from the off – Danny Graham spurning an early opportunity – and continued in that vein throughout.

It took a spill of the hand from Tim Howard for Stephane Sessegnon to break the deadlock with the crucial goal on the stroke of half-time, but it was just rewards for Sunderland’s display in the opening 45 minutes.

Everton were unable to use their muscle, as Alfred N’Diaye charged around and into Marouane Fellaini, while unorthodox right-back Jack Colback never allowed the left-sided combination of Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar to thrive.

It was Sunderland who were the side boasting far more ideas and far more threat, and with a splash of fortune, one of Seb Larsson’s three free-kicks would have nestled in the top corner.

Inevitably after introducing a second striker in Nikica Jelavic at half-time, Everton were more threatening in the second half, yet they never mustered anything approaching clear-cut.

Other than a fortuitous deflection off Jelavic, when the Croat was offside, and a over-hit Larsson back-pass, Everton were nullified.

That was again down to the resilience within Sunderland’s ranks.

Bodies were thrown on the line, lost causes chased down and a rigorously drilled back-line held firm superbly.

Fatigue threatened to take its toll during the finale, but buoyed by an atmosphere which was reminiscent of the Stadium of Light in the late 1990s, Sunderland held firm.

That sparked those typically Di Canio celebrations, with only a minority heading home early to beat the traffic.

During those theatrics though, there was a telling moment as Di Canio pointed to Ellis Short in the directors’ box – watching Sunderland under the Italian’s stewardship live for the first time.

Short’s gamble is paying off... and then some.

Twitter @youngsunecho

* Don’t miss the Football Echo – out this morning – with the best coverage of Sunderland’s win over Everton, plus a look back to last week’s derby.