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Beckford finds form to dent Bruce's Euro hopes

Seen through Wearside eyes, the Edwardian latticework of Goodison's stands might be the sheer walls of the Bernabeu or San Siro's Curva Sud.

Everton's domination over Sunderland is one of the more inexplicable features of the modern game. In 30 years only one of Sunderland's managers, Peter Reid, himself an Evertonian, had tasted victory here. There was one fleeting chance the sequence would be broken. It arrived in the third minute when Kieran Richardson was put through on goal. The shot was skewed wide and, thereafter, history's old pattern reasserted itself.

Everton have scored five and seven in these fixtures in recent seasons, and had Simon Mignolet not denied Seamus Coleman late on or Ahmed Elmohamady not cleared Leon Osman's shot off the line in the closing moments it would have been at least four here.

"That is possibly as poorly as we have played all season," said visiting manager Steve Bruce. "What we showed in the first half was apathy; we made a bit of a fist of it afterwards but we were second best all afternoon. The goals were poor and that is something that has crept into our play. We have prided ourselves on being defensively sound, but at the moment we are not."

The only serious question was whether Jermaine Beckford should be credited with one or both goals. Each was the result of some seriously lax Sunderland defending especially from Anton Ferdinand, who failed to justify his manager's decision to deploy him as a right-back. It was Ferdinand's weak header that allowed Osman to slip Beckford through and his shot took a decisive deflection against the shins of Titus Bramble.

Beckford has only fleetingly convinced Goodison since his summer move from Leeds, although David Moyes pointed out that he was attempting to scale two divisions. The first strike will be his 100th league goal, if the dubious goals committee allows him to keep it.

There was little doubt about the second. Again Ferdinand was exposed, only this time the mistake was exploited by Mikel Arteta. Again the ball was placed in Beckford's path. Again Bramble challenged and again the ball ended up in Mignolet's net. "He has to improve certain aspects of his game," said Moyes of Beckford. "But, the one thing I will say, is that his movement in the box is as good as I have seen from anybody."

Only once did Sunderland look as if they might respond and that was when Stephane Sessegnon saw Tim Howard touch a vicious goal-bound drive with the tips of his gloves to send it crashing against the crossbar. There was to be nothing remotely similar. If, in Bruce's words, Sunderland showed "apathy" before the interval, it was replaced by lethargy afterwards.

European football is something Sunderland, for all their history, have tasted only once and that comprised a couple of trips to Budapest and Lisbon in the Cup Winners' Cup in 1973. There was a time when it appeared difficult to imagine how Sunderland might not finish in the sixth or seventh place that should guarantee a Europa League place.

Four defeats later and what would be a very well-received consolation prize appears to be sliding away.


Sunday Indo Sport