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23 Nov 2010

A late, deflected Mikel Arteta strike rescued a point for Everton at Sunderland in a game high on energy but short on quality.

Everton enjoyed the perfect start when Tim Cahill headed his seventh of the season from a Leighton Baines cross.

A Danny Welbeck brace - one passed, one headed - either side of half-time looked to have won it for the hosts.

But Arteta's 20-yard left-foot strike flew in off Phil Bardsley before both sides missed late chances to win it.

For Sunderland, returning top scorer Darren Bent fired into the side netting from inside the area and Welbeck curled a shot narrowly wide, but Everton's miss was far more glaring.

In injury time, clean through 12 yards out and with only the advancing Craig Gordon to beat, Jermaine Beckford chose power when a deft touch would have done the job.

And perhaps therein lies the difference between the sides. While the Black Cats can call on Bent, injured record signing Asamoah Gyan and the fast-emerging Welbeck to win them games, Everton have Louis Saha, Beckford and Yakubu with one league goal apiece this season.

Going into the match on a run of only one league defeat in 11 matches and with half an eye on Europe and facing a team just a point clear of the relegation zone Sunderland went in heavy favourites - and so of course fell behind early on.

Both the goal they conceded and subsequent equaliser owed much to Everton's left-sided partnership.

On five minutes and in the game's first meaningful attack, full-back Baines played a one-two with Steven Pienaar and, under no pressure, played in a perfect cross. Eight yards out and free of his nominal marker, Cahill had the simplest of tasks to head past Gordon.

However, Pienaar and Baines were less impressive as Sunderland drew level. For all his invention, Pienaar was found lacking in the physical side of the game and he got turned far too easily by Bolo Zenden - himself hardly a behemoth of a man.

The former Chelsea man then ran at Baines who perhaps retreated too far, allowing the winger to pick out an unmarked Welbeck from inside the penalty area for a neat finish.

The equaliser was no more than the home side deserved for a period of dominance in possession and in the immediate aftermath of Welbeck's strike a second seemed likely, Richardson going close from 18 yards after Everton captain Phil Neville had lost the ball under pressure.

That though was one of only four Sunderland efforts in the half and it was the visitors who came closest to going in ahead, Cahill seeing a header cleared off the line and Sylvain Distin firing over with Gordon out of position moments later.

Overall, though, the first half was hugely forgettable, not least a complete non performance by lone striker Saha that left Everton without an attacking fulcrum.

Initially the second half promised better as Sunderland's harrying led to a series of half chances, but the momentum was soon to subside and Everton had a chance of their own when Cahill ran on to a Neville chip and lifted the ball over the onrushing Gordon only to see Michael Turner clear off the line.

And still quality was in short supply but amidst all the slips, missed passes and over hit crosses stood Welbeck. On his last appearance as a teenager, the on-loan Manchester United striker suggested that Sir Alex Ferguson's singling him out as a future England international was yet another shrewd piece of judgement.

Before last weekend he had not scored in the Premier League in two years, he now has three in two games, his second on the night a well-directed header from a perfect Richardson cross.

It took another 12 minutes for Saha to be withdrawn but on 81 minutes he left proceedings. Perhaps coincidentally, the equaliser came a minute later.

Arteta, generally anonymous in a game where the ball spent little time on the floor in midfield, had time to turn 20 yards out and hit a low shot that took a heavy nick off Bardsley and flew past the wrong footed Gordon.

Both sides then had chances to win it, but Beckford's lack of composure means Everton's sense of regret is likely to be the greater.


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