The game's decisive moment arrived half-way through the first period, when Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard was sent off for felling Ki Sung-yueng.

The South Korea midfielder converted the subsequent penalty and with Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone resisting Everton's frantic push for an equaliser, Gus Poyet's men held on for their first away win of the season.

It was Everton's first home defeat of 2013 and it prevented Roberto Martinez's side from making ground on the top four, while Sunderland closed to within three points of safety.

Ross Barkley dropped to the bench for Everton after scoring the winner in their 2-1 success at Swansea City last weekend, while left-back Leighton Baines was not deemed ready to return from a toe injury.

Sunderland made four changes, meanwhile, with Modibo Diakite and Valentin Roberge forming a new-look central defence, and it was they who threatened first.

Phil Jagielka's weak back header almost let in Steven Fletcher, but Howard raced out alertly to smother the danger.

Bryan Oviedo tried to get Everton on the front foot, working Mannone from 20 yards, before Diakite did well to prevent a cross from the Costa Rican reaching Romelu Lukaku.

Everton looked to be settling into the game, but mid-way through the half they shot themselves in the foot when Leon Osman's back-pass sold Howard short and the American was sent off for bringing down Ki.

Insult was added to injury for Osman as he was replaced by Everton substitute goalkeeper Joel Robles, who was promptly beaten from the spot by Ki in the 25th minute.

It might have been even worse for the hosts, but Robles recovered brilliantly to save from Sebastian Larsson after spilling an initial attempt from Ondrej Celustka.

Barkley replaced Kevin Mirallas at half-time after the Belgian was taken ill and he almost saw his side fall 2-0 behind when Robles had to repel a header from Fletcher.

Mannone produced a double save of his own to deny Jagielka and Lukaku as Everton pushed for an equaliser, and Lukaku then had a skidding shot pushed away by the Italian.

Barkley went close twice, working Mannone from 25 yards and then fizzing a shot narrowly wide from similar range, while the Sunderland goalkeeper was also extended by efforts from Lukaku and Oviedo.

Fletcher then squandered a fine opportunity to put the game to bed, sliding the ball wide with only Robles to beat, and Everton were soon back on the front foot.

Mannone produced yet another eye-catching save to keep out a free-kick from Barkley, and when Jagielka headed towards goal from the resulting corner, Fabio Borini was in position to head the ball off the line.