Everton stretched their unbeaten league run to nine games with victory over bottom of the table Sunderland at Goodison Park.
Despite a staunch Sunderland defence, Idrissa Gueye netted his first goal for the Toffees as he lashed Seamus Coleman’s low cross beyond Jordan Pickford before the break.
Sunderland put Everton under pressure but struggled to create any chances, before Jermain Defoe’s fierce effort bounced off the underside of the bar and only narrowly missed out on crossing the line.
Lukaku responded seconds later with a fine surge forward, avoiding Bryan Oviedo’s tackle and slicing the ball over Pickford via a deflection to register his 60th Premier League goal for the Blues, equalling the club record with current first-team coach Duncan Ferguson.
Everton are now four points behind sixth-placed Manchester United, while Sunderland are three points behind 17th-placed Crystal Palace.
Home comforts for Everton
Everton have lost just one of their past 15 home matches – against Liverpool in December – and have already earned more points at Goodison this season than they managed in the whole of 2015-16.
Unchanged from their draw against Middlesbrough two weeks ago, Everton had a positivity to their play. From their four corners inside the first four minutes, to sustained pressure when Sunderland began to grow in confidence after the break, the Toffees kept creating opportunities.
Even as Lukaku was kept quiet by John O’Shea, who often outmuscled the Everton striker, the home side kept pushing forward, before Gueye darted forward to meet Coleman’s cross and put them in front. Everton’s positivity nearly earned another reward minutes later as Tom Davies struck the bar on the cusp of half-time.
Lukaku had already scored seven Premier League goals against Sunderland, three of them coming when the two sides previously met in September. Despite former Everton left-back Oviedo’s best efforts, Lukaku’s pace proved too much for the second goal as he sprinted from the right and beat Pickford.
“It’s been good a journey. Duncan and I work really hard, first with Roberto Martinez and now with Ronald Koeman,” Lukaku said.
“They helped me to improve my game and I’m grateful to them, because without them, I wouldn’t have got this far.”
Moyes returns to old stomping ground
David Moyes spent 11 years as manager at Everton, taking the club to the Champions League in 2005, and was making his second return to Goodison since leaving in 2013.
On his previous visit as Manchester United manager in April 2014, Moyes oversaw a 2-0 defeat and lost his job two days later.
Although he ultimately left with the same scoreline, there were undoubtedly moments of positivity from his side.
Returning goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, who had been missing since December with a knee injury, grew in confidence as the game went on. He recovered from almost allowing Ross Barkley’s shot to creep over the line to producing two fantastic, sliding stops to deny Lukaku and Enner Valencia.
Sunderland’s defence was also strong and forced Everton into scrappy periods, but the visitors were unable to force a goal. Another defeat means that Moyes has yet to a take a point from either of his former sides this season.
Still bottom but positive signs for Sunderland
Sunderland had a two-week break in the aftermath of their 4-0 thrashing by Southampton on 11 February, during which time Moyes took his players to New York.
The defence against Southampton was sloppy but at Goodison the players kept their shape. When they were outmanoeuvred by Barkley they kept their patience and put bodies in the box to frustrate Everton’s strikers.
However, the Black Cats were hesitant when they counter-attack, which could be a lack of confidence having won just one of their past eight league games. Jermain Defoe barely saw the ball in the first half and his first real touch of the game saw the ball hammer into the underside of the bar.
Despite the improved approach Sunderland have now spent 175 days in the relegation zone this season – more than any other Premier League side.
Man of the match – Tom Davies (Everton)
What the managers said
Everton manager Ronald Koeman, speaking to BBC Sport: “It’s three points, and another clean sheet. I was really pleased by the first 45 minutes, but not by the second 45. I think we dropped the tempo in the second half, and played more backwards than forwards.
“It was an important goal for Idrissa. During the whole week, we worked on finishing because we need more goals from our midfielders. It was a nice attack and a good finish.
“We know Rom is strong. If he gets the space, he uses his pace and physique. It was a great finish.
“There is still a gap between us and the teams above but there are still 12 games to go. You need to continue and get the momentum. The team are strong and we have a lot of clean sheets and that makes for a lot of points.”
Sunderland manager David Moyes: “We did ever so well to make sure it was only 1-0. We weren’t good in the first half but got better in the second, we’d earned our chance, but didn’t get the equaliser and gave away a poor second goal.
“You’ve got to remember the quality of Everton, where they are and what they’re trying to achieve. There is a gulf in quality, but the players are giving everything they’ve got. If we’re getting let down anywhere, we don’t quite have the quality.
“I was disappointed we lost the first goal. We tried to frustrate the supporters. I didn’t want us to concede again in the second half.
“I wasn’t happy with how we played in the first half. Our passing was terrible. We didn’t play with any confidence. But I said afterwards: ‘Well done because at least in the second half you turned it round.’ We’ve still got our time to run into form yet.”
Everton travel to White Hart Lane to face Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, 5 March (13:30 GMT) while Sunderland take on Manchester City on the same day (16:00 GMT).