Sunderland 1 Everton 1
It’s fair to say Everton haven’t had too much luck this season.
But they enjoyed a huge slice of it at a blustery Stadium of Light on Boxing Day.
After first-half substitute Jack Colbeck had put the hosts in front with a deflected effort, the Blues drew level just after the restart when Leon Osman’s run into the box appeared to be ended by Lee Cattermole's trip.
At first glance, it looked a stonewall penalty, but replays showed Osman had lost his footing as he shaped to shoot. Nonetheless, an unfazed Leighton Baines stepped up to smash home the spot-kick and draw Everton level.
It’s a decision which will lead to more than a few column inches, but Everton will gladly take whatever they can right now in their bid to return to the top half of the table and a draw was the least they deserved.
There was an early chance for the visitors when John Heitinga’s floated ball put Tim Cahill clear down the right. With little support, the Australian went for goal and his angled drive was beaten away by Keiren Westwood.
An even better opportunity came Everton’s way on 14 minutes. A Royston Drenthe corner found an unmarked Louis Saha at the far post, but the Frenchman got his header all wrong and his diving effort went harmlessly behind.
Tony Hibbert made a good block to deny Nicklas Bendtner on 19 minutes as the Sunderland striker broke into space, before the Black Cats were forced into a tactical reshuffle when Colback replaced the injured Titus Bramble.
And the substitute was to have an almost immediate impact by scoring the opening goal of the game, courtesy of a helpful deflection on 26 minutes. Stephane Sessegnon ghosted into space just outside the box and sold Sylvain Distin a dummy before slipping the ball to Colback. The winger’s right-footed effort from 12 yards looped off Distin and over Tim Howard, with Baines unable to get back and clear off the line.
Everton responded, with Osman shooting over from the edge of the box, while Drenthe tried his luck from distance in the 33rd minute, but his effort flashed just wide after brushing Wes Brown’s shin on the way.
There was a shake of the head from David Moyes as the half-time whistle blew, and his words at the break had the desired effect as the Blues drew level just five minutes into the second period.
However, if Sunderland’s goal had involved a touch of good fortune, then Lady Luck was certainly smiling on Everton when Howard Webb pointed to the spot.
Osman made a fine jinking run into the box and appeared to be tripped by Cattermole. In actual fact, the Blues midfielder had kicked his own leg, but after a moment’s hesitation Webb pointed to the spot and Baines cooly dispatched the penalty past Westwood. It was heaven for everyone with Blues connections.
Sunderland were angered. Howard tipped an inswinging Kieran Richardson corner over, before a Sebastian Larsson set-piece was headed inches over his own crossbar by Phil Jagielka. The ripple of the net led to some home fans thinking the Black Cats had gone back in front.
Appeals for a second Toffees penalty were waved away on 58 minutes when Drenthe appeared to be hauled down by Craig Gardner near the left-hand byline, before Osman glanced a cross from the Dutchman behind.
There was little in the way of goalmouth action after that as both sides huffed and puffed but failed to create any clear-cut chances, although Distin could have done better with the final kick of the game as he blazed over after a goalmouth scramble.
While Sunderland will be aggrieved at the penalty decision, for Everton the show must go on, with West Bromwich Albion awaiting the Toffees on New Year’s Day.