Phil Smith’s analysis: Sunderland middle men no match for Everton’s visionary midfield trio

Sunderland's Seb Larsson loses out to a determined effort from Everton defender Ashley Williams. Picture by Frank Reid
Sunderland's Seb Larsson loses out to a determined effort from Everton defender Ashley Williams. Picture by Frank Reid
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David Moyes has targeted five more wins to give Sunderland a good chance of beating the drop.

Manage that and eke out a draw or two, and they’ll inch towards 36 points, more than likely to be enough.

With seven of the current bottom half still to play, that is eminently possible. The Black Cats have dug themselves out of far, far worse positions.

That is the context with which to place this latest tame defeat, the necessary buffer to what has been another weekend of anguish, where the sense of deep malaise setting in was heightened.

Moyes returned to Goodison Park with former Blues Darron Gibson, Bryan Oviedo and Joleon Lescott in tow.

A much-derided sequence of January signings, at Crystal Palace, in the 4-0 win earlier this month, all three impressed, keeping that criticism in check. A week later, Gibson and Oviedo were two of the brighter spots in the Southampton thumping.

They were far from culpable here, either, but it was an afternoon in which the limitations of Sunderland’s recruitment, in January and far deeper into the past, was laid bare.

Sunderland did run hard, as Moyes insisted, but their opponents were slicker, sharper, always a step ahead.

Seb Larsson, Gibson and Didier Ndong directed each other all game, pushing each other to press whenever possible. It soon became clear, however, that they would not be able to get close to Everton’s midfield.

Morgan Schneiderlin married efficiency with moments of delightful touches, while goalscorer Idrissa Gana Gueye was a bundle of energy who ran his opposite numbers ragged.

Tom Davies was an enterprising, cocky, free playmaker, almost striking with a genuine wonder goal on the brink of half-time.

It was in that department that Sunderland lost control of this game. They had the tenacity and came out fighting in the second half, but what they did not have was the energy of their opponents or their vision and poise in possession.

With that area of the field secure, Ross Barkley was able to drift infield from the right flank, leaving space for Seamus Coleman to rampage into. This bundle of energy, this superb crosser and tough tackler cost then Everton boss Moyes just £60,000 back in 2009.

The plot to bring Jermain Defoe to Sunderland was brilliant, but, aside from that, Sunderland have not been able to do any business so inventive, brave and excellent in many a year.

Perhaps the most frustrating element of this defeat was that the Black Cats’ prime tormentor in the Stadium of Light clash early in the season, Romelu Lukaku, caused surprisingly few problems given his pace and power.

Sunderland were forced into a last-minute switch due to Jason Denayer’s illness, dropping the third centre-half and going with a flat back four.

That was a daunting prospect against the Belgian, but John O’Shea shackled him impressively. How disappointing that, for the second goal, one slack pass, an over-commit on an attacking corner, and Lukaku was free to do the damage he always threatens to.

A poor, if not acrimonious, defeat, then. The big question from here is how Sunderland get those five wins.

Without Victor Anichebe’s strength and Duncan Watmore’s running, they do not have a counter-attacking game. Clearly, their technical skills are not good enough to build regularly and threateningly from the back.

Everton are the prime example of what can be achieved with gradual squad building, blending exciting, quick youth with vital experience.

It has been said over and over again, but Sunderland’s recruitment has left them one-paced and imbalanced.