Everton secured a comfortable 2-0 win over Sunderland to ensure former boss David Moyes’ return to Goodison Park was not a happy one for the Scot.
Midfielder Idrissa Gana Gueye’s first Premier League goal plus a record-equalling effort from Romelu Lukaku boosted Everton’s European hopes while adding to Sunderland’s relegation woes.
Gueye was among the unlikeliest to open the scoring, having failed to do so in 55 previous league appearances, but his fierce drive just before half-time was one worth waiting for.
Lukaku’s goal, all his own work with a 50-yard sprint from the halfway line, equalled Duncan Ferguson’s club-best tally of 60 in the Premier League.
The 2-0 victory put Ronald Koeman’s side within six points of the top four, although Europa League qualification remains their primary target.
Defeat – their sixth in 11 league matches – for bottom side Sunderland saw them slip four points from safety and cap a disappointing return to Goodison Park for ex Toffees boss Moyes.
The Scot, who had 11 years at the Merseyside club, has yet to take a point off either of his former sides. He had two defeats to Everton while in charge of Manchester United and has three losses so far this season, two to the Toffees and one against United.
Black Cats goalkeeper Jordan Pickford looked rusty on his first appearance after two months out with a knee injury with his handling particularly suspect.
He allowed a Ademola Lookman shot to squirm through his hands and had to scramble back to prevent the ball crossing the line and he later fumbled a Ross Barkley shot around his right-hand post.
Gueye gave a glimpse of what was to come when, having found himself in an unfamiliar position out on the left, he cut inside past a couple of challenges and almost succeeded in poking a shot through Pickford’s legs.
The Senegal midfielder gave the goalkeeper no chance with his next effort five minutes before the break when he drilled home Seamus Coleman’s cut-back after Tom Davies’ cross, seemingly intended for Barkley, picked out the overlapping full-back.
There was more precision from Davies’ next touch as his volley with the outside of his right foot cannoned back off the post.
Up to conceding the goal Sunderland had done a good job of restricting their hosts by making the game attritional and scrappy and Everton gradually succumbed.
Sunderland started the second half brighter with Jermain Defoe unsuccessfully claiming handball against Ashley Williams when his volley struck the defender.
Everton regained some control but they risked being undone by complacency as up front a lack of precision saw substitute Kevin Mirallas fire across goal but wide of the far post and Barkley shot over from close range.
A quick counter-attack almost caught them out but although Defoe’s shot beat Joel Robles it crashed back off the crossbar.
It was a pivotal moment as almost immediately, and with 10 minutes remaining, Lukaku ran half the length of the pitch, holding off former team-mate Bryan Oviedo, before beating Pickford with the aid of a deflection off the tracking-back defender.