Bent headed in his 11th goal of the Premier League season
By Pranav Soneji
Marouane Fellaini's equaliser five minutes from time earned Everton a deserved point against Sunderland.
The hosts took the lead in the 17th minute when Darren Bent combined brilliantly with Kenwyn Jones to head past keeper Tim Howard from 10 yards.
Bent came close to adding a second minutes later but saw his shot cleared on the goal-line by Johnny Heitinga.
But sustained second-half pressure from Everton saw Fellaini convert Tony Hibbert's cross from 10 yards.
The Belgian midfielder was among a number of Everton players to impress during a second-half renaissance orchestrated by the endeavour and invention of Steven Pienaar.
The South Africa midfielder was at the centre of Everton's most promising moves, constantly tormenting full-backs George McCartney and Phil Bardsley.
Everton manager David Moyes
However, neither team will be satisfied with a point - with only one victory in their previous 10 matches apiece, both Sunderland and Everton were in desperate need of three festive points to reinvigorate their rapidly deflating league campaigns.
With Michael Turner unavailable because of a four-match suspension, Sunderland boss Steve Bruce turned to Paulo da Silva to partner John Mensah in central defence, while captain Lorik Cana replaced the injured Lee Cattermole in midfield.
Everton boss Dave Moyes had no such concerns, naming an unchanged XI from the team that started in the 1-1 draw against Birmingham.
The continuity in selection clearly benefitted the visitors, with Pienaar and Tim Cahill in particular dictating the tempo of the early exchanges with a series of neat interchanges and intelligent runs.
The duo were involved in the build-up as Leon Osman struck the outside of Marton Fulop's left-hand post with a sweetly struck, right-foot curling effort from the edge of the area.
But despite Everton's slick passing, the hosts took the lead with a classic striker's goal in the 17th minute.
Bent laid off a long defensive clearance into the path of Jones on the right wing on the halfway line.
The Trinidad and Tobago international surged forward and delivered an inch-perfect first-time cross for the onrushing Bent to head powerfully past Tim Howard for his 11th Premier League goal of the season.
The England striker could have added his 12th minutes later when Jordan Henderson's bye-line cutback found him unmarked inside the six-yard box, but his shot, destined for the bottom corner, was cleared off the goal-line by Heitinga.
Undeterred by their one-goal deficit, Everton continued to push forward, utilising the width offered by Pienaar on the left flank.
Saha fluffed two half-chances while Pienaar's deflected shot just about cleared Fulop's crossbar as Everton ended the half as they began.
Sunderland manager Steve Bruce
In the opening 10 minutes of the second half Frenchman Saha saw a stinging right-footed volley skim past Fulop's right-hand post, but with options rapidly diminishing, Moyes introduced the power of Yakubu for Osman in the 69th minute.
The Nigerian's direct running had its desired effect as Sunderland were pinned inside their own half.
Paraguay international Da Silva almost stole a second goal against the run of play when his powerful 10-yard header from Andy Reid's free-kick was acrobatically tipped over the bar by Tim Howard on 75 minutes.
Pienaar became increasingly influential, switching flanks to the right as Sunderland's overworked defence began to crack in the closing 15 minutes.
And Everton were rewarded for their endeavours when Felliani's deft touch brought Hibbert's right-wing cross under control before he fired an unstoppable right-footed strike past Fulop.
Sunderland manager Steve Bruce: "It's horrific when you concede so late on. We have just gone too deep and it looked as if Everton were going to score.
"You're always disappointed to concede when you get so close to full time.
"I'm disappointed we couldn't keep a clean sheet. There are still improvements to be made, but if someone asked me at the start of the season that we would be 10th at Christmas, then I would have taken that."
Everton boss Dave Moyes: "I thought near enough from the start we just about completely dominated the game. They scored a very good goal and put us back.
"If we hadn't got anything out of the game it would have been a travesty. I thought the goal was reward for how the players have been playing in the last week or two.
"I think in Marouane Fellaini is probably the best midfielder in the country at the moment. He was exceptional today and his goal was reward for the way he played today."
56:41 Substitution Boudewijn Zenden joins the action as a substitute, replacing Steed Malbranque.
Correction - 55:53 Foul by Lorik Cana on Steven Pienaar, free kick awarded. Free kick crossed by Johnny Heitinga, Unfair challenge on Marton
Fulop by Tim Cahill results in a free kick. Marton Fulop takes the direct free kick.
55:53 Foul by Lorik Cana on Steven Pienaar, free kick awarded. The ball is delivered by Johnny Heitinga, Headed effort from inside
the area by Tim Cahill misses to the right of the goal.
54:14 Jordan Henderson sends in a cross, Darren Bent takes a shot from just inside the penalty box which clears the bar.
53:00 Corner taken left-footed by Leighton Baines from the left by-line, Louis Saha has an effort at goal from the edge of the box
that misses to the right of the target.
52:35 Inswinging corner taken by Leighton Baines from the left by-line, George McCartney makes a clearance.
Correction - 48:58 Jordan Henderson challenges Johnny Heitinga unfairly and gives away a free kick. Free kick taken by Johnny Heitinga.
48:58 Foul by Jordan Henderson on Johnny Heitinga, free kick awarded. Free kick taken by Johnny Heitinga.
47:33 Inswinging corner taken right-footed by Leighton Baines, Lorik Cana manages to make a clearance.
47:21 A cross is delivered by Leon Osman, clearance made by Paulo Da Silva.
45:42 Corner taken by Leighton Baines, Headed effort from inside the area by Marouane Fellaini misses to the left of the goal.
45:36 The ball is swung over by Tony Hibbert, Steed Malbranque gets a block in.
45:01 The match restarts for the second half.
45:00+2:25 It is the end of the first-half.
45:00+1:54 Centre by George McCartney, clearance made by Leighton Baines.
43:34 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Leon Osman by Steed Malbranque. Tony Hibbert takes the direct free kick.
41:40 Free kick awarded for a foul by Marouane Fellaini on Kenwyne Jones. Direct strike on goal from the free kick comes in from
Andy Reid, clearance by Lucas Neill.
40:12 Direct free kick taken by Marton Fulop.
40:12 Booking Tim Cahill is shown a yellow card for unsporting behaviour.
40:09 Unfair challenge on John Mensah by Tim Cahill results in a free kick.
37:42 Free kick awarded for a foul by Marouane Fellaini on Kenwyne Jones. Direct free kick taken by Marton Fulop.
36:37 The free kick is swung in right-footed by Steven Pienaar, Lorik Cana makes a clearance.
36:37 Booking John Mensah is shown a yellow card.
36:17 John Mensah concedes a free kick for a foul on Louis Saha.
34:35 Johnny Heitinga delivers the ball, save by Marton Fulop.
34:04 Inswinging corner taken right-footed by Leighton Baines, clearance made by Darren Bent.
33:49 Steven Pienaar takes a shot. John Mensah gets a block in.
31:26 Centre by Marouane Fellaini, Marton Fulop makes a save.
30:30 Leighton Baines fouled by Steed Malbranque, the ref awards a free kick. Leon Osman takes the direct free kick.
29:53 Tony Hibbert delivers the ball, Phillip Bardsley makes a clearance.
27:11 Jordan Henderson handles the ball and concedes a free kick. Leon Osman takes the indirect free kick.
26:23 Diniyar Bilyaletdinov produces a cross.
23:50 Darren Bent is ruled offside. Free kick taken by Johnny Heitinga.
23:08 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Darren Bent by Johnny Heitinga. Free kick taken by Phillip Bardsley.
22:32 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Tony Hibbert by Jordan Henderson. Lucas Neill takes the direct free kick.
21:41 A cross is delivered by Andy Reid, clearance made by Leighton Baines.
21:00 The ball is crossed by Kenwyne Jones, Andy Reid takes a shot.
20:20 Darren Bent takes a shot. Johnny Heitinga gets a block in.
19:35 The ball is sent over by Darren Bent, blocked by Leighton Baines.
18:47 Kenwyne Jones fouled by Marouane Fellaini, the ref awards a free kick. Andy Reid takes the direct free kick.
18:00 Tim Cahill challenges George McCartney unfairly and gives away a free kick. Marton Fulop restarts play with the free kick.
16:54 Assist by Kenwyne Jones.
16:54 GOAL - Darren Bent:Sunderland 1 - 0 Everton Darren Bent scores a headed goal from inside the penalty box. Sunderland 1-0 Everton.
16:54 Kenwyne Jones produces a cross,
16:24 Kenwyne Jones takes a shot. Tim Howard makes a save.
15:51 Tim Cahill is adjudged to have handled the ball. Phillip Bardsley restarts play with the free kick.
15:03 Long distance shot from Louis Saha misses to the left of the goal.
14:31 The ball is swung over by Phillip Bardsley.
13:48 Effort from the edge of the area by Louis Saha goes wide of the right-hand post.
13:19 Steed Malbranque concedes a free kick for a foul on Leighton Baines. Free kick taken by Johnny Heitinga.
12:46 Centre by Leon Osman, Lorik Cana makes a clearance.
12:06 Inswinging corner taken from the left by-line by Leighton Baines.
11:29 Foul by Phillip Bardsley on Tim Cahill, free kick awarded. Free kick crossed by Johnny Heitinga, clearance by Darren Bent.
11:06 The offside flag is raised against Darren Bent. Indirect free kick taken by Tim Howard.
9:15 The ball is swung over by Phillip Bardsley, save by Tim Howard.
8:16 Leon Osman has an effort at goal from the edge of the box striking the post.
6:01 The ball is crossed by Andy Reid, Johnny Heitinga manages to make a clearance.
4:50 Free kick awarded for a foul by Leon Osman on Steed Malbranque. Andy Reid delivers the ball, Headed effort from deep inside
the penalty area by Darren Bent misses to the left of the goal.
4:12 Inswinging corner taken from the right by-line by Andy Reid, clearance by Tony Hibbert.
4:07 The ball is delivered by Steed Malbranque, blocked by Steven Pienaar.
3:49 Steven Pienaar sends in a cross, John Mensah manages to make a clearance.
3:14 Inswinging corner taken by Leighton Baines from the left by-line, Kenwyne Jones makes a clearance.
3:07 Leighton Baines delivers the ball, Phillip Bardsley manages to make a clearance.
2:26 Foul by Steed Malbranque on Leighton Baines, free kick awarded. Direct free kick taken by Johnny Heitinga.
1:35 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Tim Howard by Kenwyne Jones. Tim Howard takes the free kick.
0:31 Kenwyne Jones fouled by Johnny Heitinga, the ref awards a free kick. Andy Reid crosses the ball in from the free kick, clearance
by Marouane Fellaini.
0:00 The match begins.
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