WHEN TIM Cahill takes a seat at the breakfast table in his Manhattan apartment tomorrow morning, the Australian will inevitably yearn for the good old days.
It won’t be the waffles or pancakes served up by Mrs Cahill that has the 32-year-old licking his lips. Just the thought of being a part of proceedings 3,500 miles away will have him salivating.
There could be few better scenarios for Cahill to dream of – Everton looking to end a run of four successive draws against a Sunderland side struggling to muster a shot, let alone a goal.
But in a week where there have been precious few rays of sunlight penetrating the storm clouds circling over Wearside, at least one positive is that Sunderland nemesis Cahill will not be adding to his eight goals against the Black Cats after ending his eight-year stay at Goodison Park in the summer.
Not that the absence of the now New York Red Bulls midfielder necessarily improves Sunderland’s chances of ending their Goodison jinx tomorrow.
This is the most formidable Everton side Sunderland have faced since their now masseur Craig Russell helped the Black Cats to their last league victory at Goodison in November, 1996.
For all Cahill emerged as a pivotal player under David Moyes, the irrepressible Marouane Fellaini has arguably become an even greater threat behind the striker.
With Nikica Jelavic finally providing the Toffees with a consistent goalscorer and Kevin Mirallas, Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines thriving down the flanks, Moyes has a side which will last the pace in the battle for the top four.
So is another Goodison sob story inevitable?
Stranger things have happened and Sunderland will certainly not be weighed down by any significant sense of expectation tomorrow.
But if Sunderland continue to offer the powder-puff threat which has characterised their last five games, then Everton will comfortably extend their monopoly over the Wearsiders.
Sunderland are not facing a goal-shy side like Stoke, Newcastle or Aston Villa here. Moyes’ men are the fourth most potent in the division.
There is no leeway for Sunderland just to sit back and attempt to soak up pressure. Everton will find the cracks.
Martin O’Neill’s men MUST find some cohesion, some incision and some confidence in the final third to threaten Tim Howard’s goal and end the dreadful drought which has not seen a Sunderland player find the net since Steven Fletcher’s September winner against Wigan.
O’Neill isn’t likely to make wholesale changes either. It’s time for those already in the starting XI to put aside their tentativeness going forward.
There may be an odd change if O’Neill decides to recall Danny Rose at left-back and move Jack Colback back into midfield – possibly at the expense of Stephane Sessegnon.
But by and large, it is likely to be the team that tried and failed against Villa, although it may have a few noticeable tweaks.
O’Neill will surely be tempted to revert to a 4-5-1, rather than a 4-4-1-1 – either with Seb Larsson moving back into the middle and Sessegnon and Johnson taking the wide slots, or Colback joining Craig Gardner and Lee Cattermole in the central trio.
Although that won’t make Sunderland any more expansive, at least it will give them solid foundations in a game where they can hardly go gung-ho.
There is a big responsibility on whoever is selected out wide though – and not just from a creative sense.
Sunderland’s wingers cannot afford to shirk their defensive duties at the expense of added invention.
Baines will persistently look to overlap Pienaar down the left, while Mirallas has already proved since his summer switch from Olympiakos that he is lethal when left one-on-one with an opposition full-back.
Sunderland need to be as defensively disciplined as they have been for the bulk of the campaign and make good on all those promises of finding their feet going forwards.
It’s not a combination O’Neill’s men have managed to find so far. Goodison is not a place where they are likely to begin.
Verdict: Home win