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Toffees chew up Sunderland
Everton warmed up for Saturday's FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool with a 4-0 thumping of Sunderland at Goodison Park that lifted them four points clear of the Reds in the Barclays Premier League table.
Toffees boss David Moyes chose to rest Leighton Baines, Nikica Jelavic and Tim Cahill, and the first half was a bore fest but the game burst into life in the 52nd minute when Magaye Gueye smashed in the opener.
And Everton made sure of the points with a flurry of goals, which began in the 75th minute with a curler from Steven Pienaar. Leon Osman followed suit a minute later and substitute Victor Anichebe completed the rout with a deflected shot.
Moyes handed James McFadden his first start since the Scot returned to the club in October, while Denis Stracqualursi, Osman, Marouane Fellaini and John Heitinga also came into the side.
Sunderland, whose only change saw David Vaughan replace the injured Nicklas Bendtner, had extra motivation to beat the Toffees after losing out in an FA Cup quarter-final replay last month.
The first half had the look of an end-of-season affair, with Everton's impending cup date also surely a factor, although it was the hosts who enjoyed the majority of the possession and chances. In the 27th minute Gueye chose to pick out Pienaar rather than shoot and the midfielder skied his effort.
Everton continued their probing at the start of the second half, forcing three corners in quick succession, and from the third in the 52nd minute they at last broke the deadlock.
McFadden's cross was cleared but only as far as Pienaar, who headed the ball into the path of Osman 15 yards out. His fierce shot was blocked by Simon Mignolet but he could not hold on and Gueye smashed in his first Everton goal from a tight angle.
Two near identical goals in as many minutes ensured the points were wrapped up in favour of the hosts. First the ball was played along the edge of the Sunderland area to the impressive Pienaar, who showed his quality with a lovely curling shot into the far corner in the 75th minute.
And little over 60 seconds later Osman expertly took down a long ball on his chest before turning inside and placing another superb shot in almost the same spot. Sunderland were all over the place and in the 81st minute they conceded again via Anichebe.