Sunderland sealed their Premier League safety and relegated Norwich and local rivals Newcastle with a comprehensive victory over Everton.
Defender Lamine Kone struck twice from close range after Patrick van Aanholt scored with a 25-yard free-kick that was misjudged by keeper Joel Robles.
Victory capped an impressive revival by Sam Allardyce’s side, who have lost only two of their past 13 games.
Everton were dire, heaping more pressure on boss Roberto Martinez.
The Toffees have picked up only six points from their past 10 league matches and the Spaniard is likely to face an uncomfortable final game of the season in front of disgruntled crowd at Goodison Park.
In contrast, Allardyce will be able to take his side to Watford on Sunday unburdened by the relegation fears that have surrounded the club since his appointment in October.
Their victory leaves them four points ahead of both Newcastle and Norwich with just one game to play.
Big Sam the saviour
Sunderland’s survival was built on several key decisions this season, none more significant than the appointment of Allardyce after Dick Advocaat resigned following eight games without a win to start the campaign.
Hardened to the fight from his experiences at Bolton and Blackburn and with time on his side, the 61-year-old has steadily built a disciplined and spirited side, sprinkled with match-winners.
It has not always been smooth sailing – notably during a five-game losing streak at the end of last year – but since February they have been more consistent and possessed far greater fight than their main relegation rivals.
They exemplified this once again on Wednesday with another display full of endeavour in front of a vociferous home crowd, who chanted their manager’s name throughout a lap of honour after the game.
Kone excels from back to front
Sunderland can also credit their survival in part to the signings Allardyce made in January.
Kone, Jan Kirchhoff, Wahbi Khazri and, to a lesser extent, Dame N’Doye have integrated superbly with the talent already at the club to help transform a struggling side into an effective and, at times, exciting one.
It was Kone who shone on Wednesday, forming one part of a solid centre-back pairing with Younes Kaboul at one end of the pitch and the most unlikely of predators at the other.
The 27-year-old was without a goal in 13 Premier League appearances for the Black Cats heading into this match but showed the instincts of a seasoned goalscorer when he lashed home a volley from close range after Everton failed to clear a corner.
His second goal was a much simpler finish, from near point-blank range after Robles palmed Khazri’s near-post corner on to the back of team-mate James McCarthy.
It was a costly second error from the keeper, who had inexplicably moved to his left to allow Van Aanholt’s free-kick to go into the centre of the net, but the goal was no less than the home side deserved for their dominant display.
Everton surrender again
Twice in the space of four days, the travelling Everton fans – and those watching on television – have had to endure their side tamely surrendering a match to a hungrier opponent.
The Toffees may not have anything to play for, but their displays at Leicester on Sunday and Sunderland on Wednesday will do little to appease the growing opposition to Martinez’s managerial reign.
There was an abundance of talent in the starting XI at the Stadium of Light but none of the players performed anywhere near their potential.
Despite dominating possession for large parts of the match – particularly in the first half – it was only in the last 10 minutes that Everton truly threatened as Kevin Mirallas twice went close and Romelu Lukaku thundered a shot from close range against the bar.
Having witnessed wild celebrations from opposition fans at the end of their past two games, it will be interesting to see what reception Everton supporters give Martinez and his players after Sunday’s season finale at Goodison Park.
Man of the match – Lamine Kone (Sunderland)
The stats you need to know
- Sunderland have extended their Premier League stay to 10 consecutive seasons, last playing outside the top flight in 2006-07
- Sunderland were in the relegation zone for 237 days this season but have survived; Aston Villa will have been in the relegation zone 233 days by the end of the season
- The Black Cats have scored four goals directly from free-kicks in the Premier League this season, joint highest with Chelsea and West Ham
- This was the first time that two Sunderland defenders have scored in the same game since December 2013 (John O’Shea and Phil Bardsley v Chelsea).
- Everton have conceded three goals in back-to-back Premier League games for the first time since November 2009
- Sunderland have named the same starting XI for the last seven games, something they had never done before in the Premier League
- Everton’s Gareth Barry has now made more starts (572) than any other Premier League player, surpassing goalkeeper David James
On the final day of the season on Sunday, Sunderland travel to Watford, while Everton host Norwich.