DANNY GRAHAM ended his wait for a first Sunderland goal at the 28th time of asking to secure a HUGE win in the battle for Premier League survival.
After two-and-a-half years without finding the net in red and white, Graham’s goal - coupled with Jermain Defoe’s similarly fortuitous effort - made it back-to-back league wins for the first time this season for Sunderland, in what could potentially be a defining moment in the relegation battle.
Following a dreadfully dull first half, when Sunderland were indebted to three superb saves from Costel Pantilimon, the Black Cats went ahead against the run of play early in the second half when Jordi Gomez’s shot deflected off Graham and left Tim Howard stranded.
Everton piled on the pressure in the exchanges which followed, with Sunderland sitting perilously deep and indebted to several brilliant blocks from Wes Brown and Sebastian Coates, while James McCarthy hit the post for the Toffees.
But Sunderland doubled their advantage with five minutes to go - again with a slice of luck - when Adam Johnson’s cross deflected off Seamus Coleman and then Jermain Defoe before bobbling into the net.
Wes Brown, fit-again after six weeks out with a knee injury, took the place of ex-Manchester United colleague John O’Shea at centre-half, in the only change from Dick Advocaat.
There was a spot on the bench for the returning Steven Fletcher, who replaced the injured Jack Rodwell among the substitutes.
Everton boss Roberto Martinez made two changes, with Ross Barkley and Leon Osman preferred to Steven Naismith and Kevin Mirallas.
The game began at a sedate pace, with Sunderland setting out a solid platform, with Jermain Defoe to the right and Connor Wickham to the left, of Danny Graham.
Osman scooped a shot wide of the far post from the left-hand side of the area in the eighth minute in Everton’s first meaningful attack, but Costel Pantilimon was happy to let it drift wide.
Pantilimon had to produce a far more crucial save five minutes later when Wickham’s stray pass fell to Osman, whose beautifully-weighted ball over the top picked out Romelu Lukaku.
The Belgian held off the challenge of Brown, but Pantilimon did excellently to block at the striker’s feet.
Everton remained in the ascendancy, with Sunderland too sloppy in their ball retention on the slippery surface.
Sebastian Coates made a superb block in the 19th minute to clear Seamus Coleman’s cross after James McCarthy had picked out the right-back’s run with a scything through-ball.
Sunderland gradually began to find their feet though - Wickham slicing a shot well wide from the edge of the box just before the half-hour mark.
But as a spectacle, the first half was pretty drab stuff, with Everton lacking intensity and Sunderland not showing sufficient quality to find a breakthrough.
On the stroke of half-time, Pantilimon again came to the rescue, with a superb double save in a matter of seconds.
First, Brown and Coates were caught out of position and the ball was threaded through to Lukaku, only for Pantilimon to again save at his feet.
Everton pounced on the rebound and it came out to Osman, 15 yards out, whose low shot was blocked by the legs of the Sunderland keeper.
HALF-TIME Everton 0 Sunderland 0
Advocaat changed his system at the interval, with Wickham moving into the hole behind the front pair of Defoe and Graham.
But it was Everton who came perilously close to breaking the deadlock early in the half when Phil Jagielka flicked on Leighton Baines’ corner, it glanced off the head of Wickham and bounced just wide of the post.
From the resulting corner, Jagielka’s back-post header was tipped over the top by Pantilimon.
Lukaku should have done far, far better from yet another Baines corner in the 52nd minute, but he miscued his connection from a free header eight yards out and floated harmlessly wide.
At the other end, Graham met Seb Larsson’s low cross with a stabbed shot that looped over the top.
But moments later, Graham got that elusive first Sunderland goal, albeit in fortuitous fashion.
Billy Jones charged forwards, fed Seb Larsson on the right whose cross came out to Jordi Gomez on the edge of the area.
Gomez’s angled shot deflected off Graham’s ankle and left Howard stranded as it bobbled into the net.
Patrick van Aanholt almost doubled the advantage in the 58th minute when he slalomed into the penalty area, went past two Everton players, but then fired wide of the near post.
Coleman saw a shot deflect just wide off Brown in the 65th minute after the full-back collected Aaron Lennon’s square pass, juggled with the ball and let fly from just inside the area.
Sunderland found themselves increasingly pinned back in their own half, with the woodwork coming to the rescue when McCarthy’s angled drive crashed back off the far post in the 73rd minute.
McCarthy came close again moments later when he collected Lukaku’s lay-off, drove into the area, but lost his balance at the crucial moment and spooned a shot over the top.
But despite that backs-to-the-wall job, Sunderland doubled their advantage with five minutes to go - again with a huge slice of fortune.
Steven Fletcher dribbled into the area, lost his balance, but managed to feed it to fellow substitute Adam Johnson on the left-hand side of the box.
Johnson’s cross-come-shot deflected off Coleman, then deflected Defoe and beat the stranded Howard.
FULL-TIME Everton 0 Sunderland 2
EVERTON: Howard, Coleman, Jagielka, Stones, Baines (Garbutt 73), Barry (Mirallas 62), McCarthy, Osman, Barkley, Lennon (McGeady 86), Lukaku. Subs not used: Robles, Kone, Naismith, Besic. Booked: Coleman (73)
SUNDERLAND: Pantilimon, Jones, Brown, Coates, van Aanholt, Cattermole, Larsson (Bridcutt 84), Gomez, Wickham (Fletcher 84), Defoe, Graham (Johnson 73). Subs not used: Mannone, Reveillere, Vergini, Buckley. Booked: Brown (43), Defoe (66)