All the talk was of Darren Bent before the game and he found a way of staying in the headlines, squandering a second-half penalty and denying his new employers a probable share of the spoils. In the end a goal in each half from Robbie Keane and Tom Huddlestone was enough to settle it in Spurs' favour and send them back into the top four.
Sunderland, though, had been good value and had they not found Heurelho Gomes in such good form they would have gone home with some reward. His penalty save after bringing down Bent was not his most difficult, but it was crucial given that Spurs were struggling to defend a one-goal advantage.
The Sunderland manager, Steve Bruce, who felt Bent should have earned a first-half penalty after a Gomes challenge, thought the keeper should have been sent off in the second. "That was the big turning point," Bruce said. "He's denied the boy a goalscoring opportunity and I don't like the rule, but he should have got a red card."
Opposite number Harry Redknapp viewed it differently. Should Gomes have gone? "No," he said. "I'm not even sure it was a penalty. Gomes had told me he didn't touch him."
Redknapp brought to an end David Bentley's revival by leaving him on the bench and playing Keane behind the front two but, although Keane gave Spurs the lead after 12 minutes, it was only when Niko Kranjcar replaced him late in the game and they reverted to 4-4-2 that Spurs began to click. "I started with a diamond but it didn't sparkle," Redknapp quipped.
Fabio Capello, who picks his England squad today for Saturday's friendly against Brazil, was in the stands but undoubtedly the guests of honour yesterday were the 2nd Battalion of the Rifles who have returned from a six-month tour to Afghanistan and who stood to attention throughout an impeccably-observed minute's silence to mark Remembrance Sunday.
Keane struck after a trademark cross from wide left by Benoît Assou-Ekotto was nodded down by Crouch, the Irishman prodding the ball home with the aid of a Craig Gordon fumble.
Bruce fumed on the sidelines but his team, winners here in August last season, were soon giving a good account of themselves. Steed Malbranque, one of four former Spurs men in the visitors' side, terrorised the accident-prone right-back Vedran Corluka and Andy Reid gradually began to find the room to showcase his skills, including a stunning 40-yard strike that beat Gomes but hit the post. Jordan Henderson almost connected with Bent's low centre and a Corluka mistake also let in Kieran Richardson, but Gomes saved well at his feet.
Sunderland had an even better chance to level six minutes after the restart when Bent fell under Gomes' challenge as he pursued Reid's through-ball. The Brazilian got a yellow, then a gold star for saving Bent's weak spot-kick low to his left. "That's why we sold you," came the Spurs taunts.
Gomes milked the applause, then earned more with a save from Malbranque's deflected shot and a Bent header. Sunderland, fluent and neat in possession, looked set to continue testing the big keeper but problems were mounting for them at the other end of the field, with Gordon injured in a collision with Jermain Defoe. On came Marton Fulop, a fifth former Spurs man, and his first touch of the ball was to pick it out of the net, having had no answer to Huddlestone's sweetly-struck shot from Defoe's pass.
Kranjcar gave Spurs another outlet and they saw out a game that had earlier threatened to go the other way, although Gomes again saved well from a Michael Turner header.
"We could have had four," moaned Bruce. "I was pleased with the way we played but we have not had much fortune since the beach ball incident against Liverpool." As if that didn't entitle Lady Luck to a well-earned rest.
Referee: Kevin Friend
Man of the match: Gomes
Match rating: 7/10Reuse content