Everton 0-1 Stoke City
Stoke fans could have been forgiven for arriving at Goodison Park with low expectations this afternoon. Their side had just sealed qualification from the group stages of the Europa League, but had thus far followed every one of four previous mid-week appearances in the competition with defeats in the Premier League.
In the end, however, it took the visitors only fifteen minutes to land what would prove the decisive blow. Unsurprisingly, the breakthrough came courtesy of a Matthew Etherington delivery, his cross from the wing ricocheting out to Dean Whitehead, whose volley found the back of the net only after striking a motionless Robert Huth.
Everton dominated possession from that point onwards, but without the commanding presence of Louis Saha at the focal point of their attack, the Merseysiders lacked the invention and dynamism capable of unsettling Stoke’s defence.
It was a dismal, one-note performance enlivened only by the appearance of Jack Rodwell in the latter stages.
Stoke could easily have had a second when Jonathan Walters diverted a corner to the rear post, but an onrushing Ryan Shotton couldn’t make the required contact from all of two yards out.
Victory vaults Stoke into eighth place on the league table, while Everton slip to tenth.
Wolves 2-1 Sunderland
Speaking before this afternoon’s fixture, Wolves manager Mick McCarthy said he expected Sunderland to play positively, buoyed by the presence of their newly-appointed manager, Martin O’Neill.
Instead, an abject second-half capitulation from the Wearsiders laid bare the full scale of the task awaiting the Northerner.
Sunderland took the lead in the 52nd minute, a well-worked move involving Sebastian Larsson and Niklas Bendtner releasing Kieran Richardson, who drove his shot into the top-left corner.
O’Neill’s charges looked to extend their lead just after 70-minute mark, when Larsson went to ground easily on the edge of the Wolves box. A dearth of evidence didn’t prevent Phil Dowd from awarding a penalty.
The Swede’s effort, a tentative shunt, was intercepted easily by Hennessy, who punted a clearance down the left. Seconds later, Wes Brown had fatally misjudged a defensive header and Stephen Fletcher had nodded home Wolves’ equaliser.
Stunned by the sudden reversal in their fortunes, Sunderland granted Wolves greater space in which to assert themselves, a psychological failing that didn’t even go ten minutes unpunished before Fletcher was again allowed to appear unchallenged, this time on the shoulder of Jamie O’Hara. Collecting the ball, he drove a low volley beyond the reach of a helpless Westwood.
Victory sees Wolves climb four points beyond the relegation zone, while Sunderland, winless since a mid-October outing at Bolton, slip to 17th.