Sunderland completed another improbable Barclays Premier League survival mission and relegated north-east rivals Newcastle in the process after cruising to a 3-0 victory over woeful Everton at the Stadium of Light.
Two goals from Lamine Kone followed a Patrick Van Aanholt free-kick as the hosts sealed survival with a game to spare – an achievement lent extra sweetness for the celebrating home fans by the fact it consigned the Magpies, as well as Norwich, to the Championship.
From looking down and out after losing five straight league games at the end of 2015, the Sam Allardyce-inspired drive to safety was made to seem strangely comfortable by another simply abject performance from Roberto Martinez’s visitors.
Apart from two half-hearted efforts from right-back Matthew Pennington, one of the few Toffees players to emerge with any credit, the visitors’ lackadaisical approach earned few rewards and cast further doubt over their manager’s future.
From the moment Van Aanholt’s 38th minute free-kick left Joel Robles strangely rooted to his spot, the Black Cats’ mission seemed accomplished, Kone volleying the second just four minutes later before his close-range strike in the second half sealed the deal.
Despite Everton’s abject recent form, in contrast to his own side’s stunning win over Chelsea at the weekend, Allardyce had warned against complacency and those nerves were inevitably evident in the early stages as the visitors made what passed for the early running.
Gareth Barry, making his Premier League record 572nd start, was a solid enough presence in the middle and he served up the ninth-minute cross from which Pennington tested home keeper Vito Mannone with the first chance of the game.
But most of Everton’s forward play was lightweight and the eager hosts soon got a grip on proceedings, a header from the impressive Younes Kaboul stinging the hands of visiting keeper Robles.
Kaboul came close again on 24 minutes, cutting in from the left flank and firing a searing drive which flashed across the helpless Robles for also, unfortunately for the home fans, the face of goal.
But with the visitors offering next to nothing in attack, there was a growing inevitability of a breakthrough and it came after Ramiro Funes Mori fouled Jermain Defoe on the edge of the Everton box on 38 minutes.
After some deliberation in the home ranks, it was Van Aanholt who stepped up to fire a deceiving free-kick which caught out the rooted Robles and found the back of the net.
And just two minutes later chants of “Are you watching, Newcastle?” began tumbling down the Stadium of Light stands as the hosts took a massive stride towards safety by extending their lead.
Everton failed to deal with Wahbi Khazri corner, Leighton Baines’ half-clearance only finding Yann M’Vila whose header back was superbly volleyed into the net by Kone.
Apart from a Pennington header straight at Mannone, Everton got worse after the break, and the hosts came close to extending their advantage when Jan Kirchhoff knocked a Khazri corner just wide.
In the 55th minute, survival was effectively secured from another Khazri set-piece, after John Stones had hooked a goal-bound Defoe effort off the line.
Robles flapped the resulting corner into the backs of his defenders, and Kone pounced on a convenient ricochet to boot home and send the celebrations – and the Newcastle-baiting – into overdrive.
Defoe stung the hands of Robles in his quest to make it three, while a couple of rare Everton forays at the other end saw Funes Mori and Barry both bring diving saves out of Mannone.
Romelu Lukaku summed up Everton’s woes by hitting the bar in stoppage time, before the final whistle brought the biggest cheer of the night – and the promise of more top-flight football to come on Wearside.