Richard Mennear's SAFC analysis: More important challenges ahead for Sunderland after cup exit
There was a brilliant statistic doing the rounds before last night's Carabao Cup defeat to Everton at Goodison Park.
The trio of former Everton players in the Sunderland starting line-up (James Vaughan, Jack Rodwell and Darron Gibson) had more appearances for the Toffees – 238 – than the entire Everton starting line-up, just the 233.
A nod to the amount of changes Ronald Koeman had made, eight, as he looked to kick-start a faltering campaign which had seen them lose their last four games.
He couldn’t have asked for a more comfortable evening as Everton ended their goal drought and progressed to the fourth round of the competition without having to get out of second gear.
There was little to cheer for those Sunderland fans that made the midweek trip to Merseyside, the Black Cats knocked out of the cup with a whimper.
Sunderland offered little going forward, the flair players all enjoying an evening to forget, James Vaughan aside, who should have scored after seeing a shot go wide and two headers.
The Black Cats were too cautious, sat too deep, inviting pressure on from the home side shy of confidence themselves after a dreadful start to the new campaign.
Grayson, who made six changes, shoehorned three right-backs into the side, with Donald Love in his natural position, Billy Jones partnering Lamine Kone in the middle and Adam Matthews at left-back.
Lynden Gooch was handed a start but Joel Asoro was named on the bench and didn’t make it off.
A shame, with Sunderland 2-0 down seven minutes into the second half it was an opportunity to throw him on and see what he had to offer. Ethan Robson did come on but only with four minutes to go.
Everton could have kick-started their season with this win, Sunderland need a similar shot in the arm this weekend.
In truth, this was a game that Grayson could have done without, with a busy week of crucial Championship fixtures coming up ahead of the next international break; Cardiff City, Ipswich Town and Preston North End next week.
Struggling in the Championship, Sunderland could probably do without a cup distraction adding more midweek fixtures to an already busy calendar.
After a poor and lacklustre display on Merseyside they no longer have the Carabao Cup to worry about.
Sunderland has the first opening, Muhamed Besic gifting the ball to Vaughan, but he shot wide.
From then on, Toffees’ second-choice stopper Maarten Stekelenburg – in for rested £30million summer signing Jordan Pickford – had next to nothing to do.
The lively Dominic Calvert-Lewin had already sent one effort wide, while Sandro went close before the former opened the scoring – Everton’s first goal in more than 400 minutes of football.
Calvert-Lewin showed quick feet before finishing past Steele.
Any hopes of a comeback lasted just seven second-half minutes.
Sandro released Calvert-Lewin down the left and he made his way into the box before firing past Steele. All too easy for the hosts, same old defensive story for Sunderland.
It was Everton that looked more like adding to the lead, Calvert-Lewin heading the ball onto the post, a whisker away from his hat-trick. There was to be no hat-trick though as Koeman replaced him with Oumar Niasse.
Sunderland didn’t look any closer to scoring up the other end, Vaughan twice nodding wide, his head in his hands.
Moments earlier, Everton sub Ademola Lookman was denied by a brilliant double stop from Steele.
Everton capped their comfortable win in the 83rd minute, sub Oumar Niasse with a fine finish past Steele – he chested Tom Davies’s pass down before finishing from 10 yards.
For Sunderland, the Carabao Cup dream is over for another season.
But bigger challenges lay ahead for Grayson & Co. Kick-starting a disappointing start to life in the second tier being the main focus, starting Saturday with the visit of high-flying Cardiff City to the Stadium of Light – and ending that near 10-month wait for a home win.