Read a full match report of the Premier League contest between Sunderland and Everton at the Stadium of Light on Saturday, 12 April 2014
A seventh consecutive win, the first time they have achieved that feat in the Premier League, gave the Merseyside club their highest ever points tally since English football’s brave new dawn 22 years ago.
Victory arrived courtesy of Wes Brown, the increasingly error-prone defender, inadvertently deflecting a Gerard Deulofeu cross past Vito Mannone with 15 minutes left. Leicester City shipped eight own goals a decade ago, but Sunderland’s running total of six threatens to match the current flag bearers of defensive ineptitude in the realms of the self-proclaimed best league in the world.
“We’re heading towards new ground,” Martinez reflected, after seeing his side climb above Arsenal into fourth, boasting a return of 66 points, surpassing the 65 amassed under David Moyes six years ago.
The Spaniard added: “We’re fighting to achieve something, and our aim is to remain in the top four until the end of the season, but the pressure is off. At the start of the season, we weren’t among the top six favourites, so we are playing without pressure.
“Being in the top four gives us a psychological lift, certainly. Whatever happens, I think it will take the highest ever points total for the team finishing fourth this season, such has been the standard. There will be plenty more twists and turns before the end.”
The win arrived in the wake of a far from impeccably observed minute’s silence from the stands for the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster. Martinez added: “I think it was people entering the ground not aware the silence was taking place, but the silence from inside the ground was full of respect.”
Steven Naismith wasted opportunities in each half to embellish the margin of victory, shooting over early on after a sublime turn wrong-footed Brown, while after the break the Scot volleyed wide of an empty net after Vito Mannone rushed out of his area to apply an ineffectual clearing header which fell to the Everton forward, who ought to have found the net.
The misses didn’t prove costly. Deulofeu had the beating of his compatriot Marcos Alonso, the on-loan Fiorentina defender all afternoon, and it came as little surprise when the midfielder, borrowed from Barcelona, provided the supply line, Brown deflecting his low centre home from inside the six-yard box despite Mannone getting a hand to the ball.
“Gerard was a threat every time he got the ball,” Martinez added. “He was the difference between winning or being forced to settle for a point." Certainly, Sunderland deserved a share of the spoils, but remain bottom, seven points adrift of safety and without a league victory since February 1.
Their final three home games all look winnable, even for a side as bereft of confidence as they are. However, their fate may well be sealed before then, with their seven-year stay in the top flight looking all but over.
They came close to a late equaliser as Tim Howard saved well from Ki Sung-yueng and Fabio Borini, whose first half shot was cleared off the line by John Stones, shot narrowly wide.
With trips to Manchester City and Chelsea on the horizon, Gus Poyet admitted: “We need to make things happen quickly, but we’re running out of games.
“It’s difficult to take. We’ve competed well against one of the best teams in the division, but something always seems to go against us. I don’t really believe in being lucky or unlucky. The bottom line is that it’s another game we’ve let slip by without getting anything from.”
Sunderland (4-2-3-1) Mannone 6; Bardsley 6, O’Shea 6, Brown 5, Alonso 4; Ki 6, Cattermole 6; Johnson 6, Colback 6 (Larsson 69, 6), Borini 6; Wickham 3. Subs: Ustari, Gardner, Giaccherini, Cuéllar, Vergini, Scocco. Booked: Bardsley, Johnson, Larsson.
Everton (4-2-3-1) Howard 8; Coleman 7, Stones 8, Distin 8, Baines 7; McCarthy 8, Barry 8; Deulofeu 8 (McGeady 78, 6), Naismith 6, Osman 6 (Barkley 58, 6) Lukaku 6. Subs: Robles, Hibbert, Mirallas, Garbutt, Alcaraz. Booked: Coleman.
Referee: Lee Probert, Wiltshire
How doomed do Sunderland look?
The players: Gus Poyet reckons he'll quit if he senses his players have given up the fight – but no sign of that here in a committed 90 minutes.
The manager: The Uruguayan is planning for the Championship next season, but hoping for the Premier League. It looks bleak, but Sunderland aren't down yet.
The fans: Another 38,445 loyal souls turned up more in hope than expectation, giving their side admirable backing.