Nikica Jelavic: Everton Striker Worth His £5 Million Fee
In what was a cracking match with an electric atmosphere played out on national television, Everton from start to finish had the better of their opponents Sunderland, as they booked a place at Wembley in the FA Cup semifinals with a 2-0 win.
Nikica Jelavic opened the scoring for the Toffees, before Black Cats' midfielder David Vaughan—shortly after coming on as a substitute—added a second for the visitors after bundling a Jelavic shot into his own net.
Everton took 7,000 fans to the Stadium of Light for the quarterfinal replay—after the initial game finished 1-1 at Goodison Park—and their vociferous backing clearly helped as the home side weren't able to live up to the expectations of the sell-out crowd and set up a first ever date at the new Wembley.
The Toffees—currently ninth in the Premier League table—will meet Merseyside rivals Liverpool in the FA Cup semifinal, the first time in 35 years.
As the away team made history—and prevented the hosts from trying to win their first major trophy in 39 years—here are five things we learned from this classic game on Wearside.
Everton were worthy winners throughout the game, dominating their opposition from the beginning to the end.
Sunderland tried to use the home crowd to their advantage, and got stuck into the visitors with robust challenges and direct football.
However, unlike the Toffees, they seemed to get overawed by their support, and couldn't string any good passes together in the final third.
The away team on the other hand, appeared unfazed as they tried, and succeeded, with many link up plays in and around the Sunderland penalty area, positionally interlinking the likes of Leighton Baines, Magaye Gueye, Leon Osman and Marouane Fellaini to thread through balls for Nikica Jelavic and Tim Cahill up front.
And it worked, as they had five more shots on target than Sunderland, ten more overall, and of course scored two more goals.
The FA Cup quarterfinal replay against Everton could well be Sunderland's poorest performance yet under Martin O'Neill.
There hasn't been many lacklustre displays, but from a Black Cats' viewpoint this game runs the 4-0 drubbing at West Bromwich Albion pretty close for worst performance, and could actually be their most dire.
Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet kept Sunderland in the game for large parts, and the scoreline would've been much more emphatic in Everton's favour had it not been for the Belgian, and Nikica Jelavic's missed chances.
Their defence failed to keep out the attacking threat from Everton, with centre-backs Michael Turner and Sotirios Kyrgiakos out muscled too often in their own penalty area, and full-backs Wayne Bridge and Phil Bardsley ineffective at the back and in attack.
While up front, Phil Neville showed his experience in keeping young star James McClean quiet, meaning Nicklas Bendtner and Stephane Sessegnon had little to work with up front, apart from the occasional cross from Sebastian Larsson, who struggled to shake off Leighton Baines.
When the chances did arrive, it was often Bendtner on the end of such opportunities. And the man on loan from Arsenal of course failed to make any use of them, in typical Bendtner fashion.
Nikica Jelavic, signed from Glasgow Rangers on January transfer deadline day, looks like he could become a bargain for the £5 million he cost Everton.
The 26-year-old Croatia striker scored his third goal since his move down south with the opener in this match, and was key in the second goal as it was attempt on goal which was bundled in by David Vaughan.
Throughout the game Jelavic was a threat, and it's clear he rose to the occasion, playing without any psychological pressure as he got on the end of chances created by the midfield—and could've got a hat-trick with some better luck and concentration.
As the games go by and Jelavic adapts to his teammates' playing styles, the potential is definitely there—proved by his performance at Sunderland—for the goals to flood in.
Given how he's raised his game for the big matches this season—he scored the winner against Tottenham Hotspur—Nikica Jelavic will no doubt be a key player when Everton take on Liverpool in the semifinal next month.
And if he scores a winner against the Reds, not only will his £5 million fee seem the bargain of the season to Everton fans, he'll probably also be seen as their best signing ever.
Stephane Sessegnon is Sunderland's best player right now, and was again at home to Everton.
In a very disappointing display for the Black Cats, 27-year-old trequartista Sessegnon was their only bright spark, with his incisive passes key in almost every attack his team had.
And not only is he the most important playmaker for Sunderland, he's also their most important finisher.
In this match it was his passes and inter-linking play which set up most of the team's efforts on goal, while it was the Benin international himself who was also on the end of them—and had the best chances for his side when his volley from a tight angle struck the post.
It's no wonder the man signed from Paris Saint-Germain is wanted by the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and his now mega-rich former employers.
Whilst he couldn't add to his eight goals and nine assists against Everton, he was more likely to do so than any other Sunderland player, and like a lot of games this season, was clearly their best player throughout the match.
David Moyes was key in this win for Everton, with the Toffees manager again working wonders as he engineered a semifinal place for his team.
Right from the start he got his men playing daring football, committing players in attack with intricate plays in the final third, and without much regard for a potential counterattack.
It was a risky strategy which paid off, as the Scottish boss got his team to live the occasion and bomb forward at almost any opportunity, in a successful attempt to put the hosts on the back foot.
And it was a result which capped off another landmark for Everton under David Moyes, who by reaching the FA Cup semifinals have again over achieved under severe financial constraints, and have proved that great management, not money, is the key to success.