Full-time: Sunderland 0 Everton 1

SUNDERLAND edged a step closer to playing Championship football this afternoon when yet another own goal gifted Everton a narrow victory at the Stadium of Light.

Despite an encouraging display against a Toffees side which now occupies a Champions League spot, the Black Cats remained toothless in attack and slipped to yet another defeat.

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Victories for Crystal Palace, Fulham and Cardiff, as well as a draw for West Brom, has merely heightened relegation worries on Wearside.

There remains a seven point gap to fourth from bottom Norwich City and Sunderland have just six matches remaining to close that.

Sunderland had chances but were left deflated when a run and cross from the byline from Gerard Deulofeu was turned into Vito Mannone's near post by the leg of Wes Brown.

It was the sixth own goal by a Sunderland player in the Premier League this season and proved enough to give Everton a two-point cushion over fifth-placed Arsenal in the race for the Champions League.

For Sunderland, though, it looks like the Championship.

Sunderland had plenty possession but had failed to test goalkeeper Tim Howard until later in the first half. Before that time Everton should have been at least one goal up.

When a Sunderland corner broke down, the blue shirts counter attacked with James McCarthy rolling a pass down the left for Deulofeu to chase. Deulofeu turned one way and then the other before shooting low in to the arms of Italian goalkeeper Mannone.

Four minutes later Steven Naismith embarrassed Brown with a clever turn inside the penalty area, but he fired over from 12 yards when it looked easier to score.

Sunderland did find greater fluency in their play. Had it not been for the presence of defender John Stones on the line, Sunderland would have gone ahead. Fabio Borini latched on to a weak back pass from Leighton Baines, rounded Howard before watching his shot from a tight angle thwarted by Stones.

Poyet, who was unable to call on midfielder Liam Bridcutt because the player's wife had gone in to labour, still needed to see more from his team after the restart.

Sunderland carried on from where they left off in the second half and increased the tempo. Howard, though, was still not forced in to a save until 22 minutes left.

South Korean midfielder Ki Sung-Yueng almost opened the scoring when he jumped ahead of Naismith and headed wide from Adam Johnson's deep and well weighted cross.

Deulofeu and Naismith, who missed an empty net when Mannone had misjudged a long ball, did have chances at the other end, but there was a sense that Sunderland could win if they found the magic touch in the area.

But the way Connor Wickham and Borini stood and watched Howard fumble then gather a loose ball after Ki's low shot from distance summed up Sunderland's afternoon in front of goal.

Then Everton got the break they craved and Sunderland feared. Deulofeu got to the byline and crossed towards the six yard box where it hit Brown's leg and Mannone failed to prevent from rolling in at the near post.

Sunderland rallied but Everton stood firm.

SUNDERLAND (4-1-4-1): Mannone; Bardsley, Brown, O'Shea, Alonso; Cattermole; Johnson, Colback (Larsson 70), Ki, Borini; Wickham. Subs: Ustari (gk), Gardner, Giaccherini, Cuellar, Vergini, Scocco.

EVERTON (4-4-2): Howard; Coleman, Stones, Distin, Baines; McCarthy, Barry; Deulofeu (McGeady 78), Osman (Barkley 58), Naismith; Lukaku. Subs: Robles (gk), Hibbert, Mirallas, Garbutt, Alcaraz.