Wes Brown's own goal dealt Sunderland's survival hopes a blow on Saturday as they fell to a 1-0 home defeat against Everton.
On a day when relegation rivals Cardiff City and Fulham picked up victories, Brown was the unfortunate party in a largely stoic Sunderland defence at the Stadium of Light. Sunderland looked set to keep out an Everton side who scored three against Arsenal on Sunday but the former Manchester United defender unwittingly turned home Gerard Deulofeu's cross 15 minutes from time to leave the Wearside club four points adrift at the bottom of the Barclays Premier League, albeit with two matches in hand.
Roberto Martinez's charges were far from their fluent best, but got the crucial stroke of luck they needed to earn a seventh straight league win and assume pole position in the race for the fourth and final UEFA Champions League spot, sitting two points clear of Arsenal.
Sunderland had the best opportunity of the first half as Fabio Borini was denied an opener thanks to John Stones' sliding goalline clearance. Despite Everton producing better chances in the second half, with Steven Naismith and Ross Barkley both going close, it took a Sunderland man to give them the break they needed on what was another bad day at the office for Gus Poyet's side.
A confident Everton made the early running as they dominated possession, with Deulofeu having the game's first effort on target in the ninth minute before Romelu Lukaku also stung the palms of Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone. Naismith shot over after an excellent turn past Brown as Martinez's men began to find their feet.
Sunderland went closest to opening the scoring when Borini's effort was cleared off the line thanks to a sliding Stones clearance. Borini pounced on a Leighton Baines error and rounded Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard, only for Stones to desperately keep his shot out.
The chance sparked a late spell of first-half pressure for the hosts, culminating in Adam Johnson's shot being deflected wide and Phil Bardsley's blocked header led to a goalmouth scramble after the break.
Deulofeu's tantalising cross went unfinished at the other end before Naismith failed to shoot into an empty net after Mannone had rushed out of his goal, only to head it into the path of the Scot. Naismith lacked the composure to take the chance, turning over, before Barkley's shot struck the outside of a post just after the hour-mark.
Everton did get their winner though, as Deulofeu produced a trademark burst into the penalty area before his cut-back struck Brown and rolled past the helpless Mannone.
Sunderland head coach Gus Poyet: "This has been the story of our season. Again we were doing well in the game, it was very tight and there was nothing between the teams - and then we go and lose the game with an own goal.
"One moment of luck has defined the game and maybe that is the difference between being at the top and being at the bottom. Sometimes things go for you when you are doing well. Unfortunately this game was not to be for us."
Everton manager Roberto Martinez: "It was a difficult game and you could tell what was at stake for both teams.
"From our point of view, to keep a clean sheet in those circumstances was very pleasing and it was also important to take one of our chances too. It makes for a very satisfying performance full of character and personality. "
"We came into this game on the back of a stylish win at home to Arsenal but in this league you have to adapt quickly to playing different teams and doing what you have to do."
|16 Apr 2014||v Man City (A)|
|19 Apr 2014||v Chelsea (A)|
|27 Apr 2014||v Cardiff (H)|
|03 May 2014||v Man Utd (A)|
|07 May 2014||v West Brom (H)|
|11 May 2014||v Swansea (H)|