Of late they have lost a bit of enthusiasm for the surname Keane on Wearside and when a chorus of "Keano, there's only one Keano," rang out close to five o'clock yesterday it was from the travelling Tottenham Hotspur fans serenading their returned goalscoring captain Robbie Keane. Meanwhile the locals fumed.
For 86 minutes they had seen Sunderland cling on doggedly to a third-minute advantage given to them by a slick finish from Kieran Richardson; but, in the 89th minute, around five seconds after home fans had shouted loudly for a penalty-kick when Ledley King gripped the arm of Kenwyne Jones and dragged Jones down, as the stadium raged at referee Phil Dowd's non-award, Tottenham saw one last chance.
Dean Whitehead's miscued header found Spurs substitute David Bentley and his prod sent Darren Bent down the Sunderland left. There was space there because, as aggrieved Sunderland manager Ricky Sbragia noted dryly, left-back George McCartney was in the Tottenham box trying to score.
"I don't know why he's there, George is supposed to defend," Sbragia said. Harsh words for Richardson, Kenwyne Jones and Djibril Cisse followed from Sbragia.
Bent used the available space to reach the Sunderland area and his low cross was met on the run by Keane. The volley was difficult to execute but Keane displayed his class to guide it beyond Marton Fulop.
Superficially it might look as if Tottenham had stolen a point, but after 86 minutes chasing the game and dominating it, Harry Redknapp's team more than deserved it. They too should have been given a penalty, on 75 minutes when Phil Bardsley handled.
"I felt we controlled the ball," Redknapp said; "we let Tottenham dictate the game," said Sbragia.
The Scot, who looked angry and sounded angry but who said he was not, added that there was no conscious decision for Sunderland to play so deeply and concede so much territory. But they did and much of the reason was that after the back four and midfield had knocked the ball around, Jones and Cisse would lose it in attack.
"For some reason we do that, we go the other way," Sbragia said. And yet at the stage when Sbragia wanted his players to be over-cautious, McCartney and others belted headed forward for a 89th minute corner. It was from this that Tottenham scored.
"I don't bollock them, I state the facts, we were fucking shit," was Sbragia's summary.
Richardson's tenth booking of the season, moreover, means that he misses next Saturday's game against Wigan and then the trip to Manchester City. "Like a chicken with no head," was Sbragia's description of Richardson.
Yet it was the midfielder who gave Sunderland their lead and for an hour he was the best player on the pitch. His goal was taken with assurance, Richardson surging past Jonathan Woodgate at the end of a flowing move to steer a right-footed shot to the side of Heurelho Gomes.
But Sunderland handed the momentum to Spurs. Aaron Lennon was the principal threat and as home fouls became ever more frequent there were Fulop saves from Bent and King.
But there was no goal and when Bent was presented with the offer by another Whitehead miscue, in the 58th minute, he blasted a shot over from 16 yards with only Fulop to beat. On the touchline Redknapp spun away in annoyance.
But Spurs built again and Redknapp introduced three subs in twenty minutes. "We ended up with three at the back and seven forwards," he said.
Still there was no breakthrough and as the clock passed the 80-minute mark, Sunderland began to advance into Tottenham's half at last. A corner was won but that, as Sbragia said, proved to be their downfall.
"Indiscipline," he said. There needs to be more shown against Wigan. Though the point moved both above Hull, both Sunderland Spurs have a tough run-in.
Referee: Phil Dowd.
Man of the match: Richardson.
Match rating: 6/10.