One minute you're on top, the next you're simply over the top. The stupidity of Frank Queudrue transformed this game. Just as Middlesbrough looked likely to allow no let-up in Tottenham Hotspur's misery, the defender was dismissed for a two-footed lunge with 51 minutes still to play.
Queudrue's reckless act meant that instead of inflicting a record-equalling seventh successive league defeat on the Londoners, as was threatened, it was Middlesbrough who ended up losing after being unbeaten for the same number of Premiership fixtures.
Both managers agreed that the incident changed the game. "It didn't warrant a red," said Middlesbrough's Steve McClaren, who claimed control until then. His less-than- watertight argument was that yes, it was a bad tackle, but it was the first in the game and the referee Phil Dowd should have taken that into account. "Spurs got a bit lucky," he said.
They did indeed. But they also used that luck. Their head coach, Martin Jol, said: "Luck was on our side a bit but, on the other hand, it was a cynical tackle. It was a shame for them." But not for his side who, he has argued, have been short in the good fortune category.
The only downside is that Jermain Defoe picked up a fifth booking of the season, and will miss the league game after next, after he tore off his shirt in celebrating the first goal. Given that his act was premeditated - there was a happy birthday message on his vest for his girlfriend - and not some spontaneous gesture of relief, it was all the more foolish. "Amazing," Jol said. And he wasn't talking about Defoe's alert finish, three minutes after the restart, as he sweetly swept in Pedro Mendes' low cross.
Queudrue wasn't the only Middlesbrough player to have an afternoon to forget. With 14 minutes to go Mark Schwarzer gifted Spurs a second goal when his clearance cannoned off the substitute Frédéric Kanouté and nestled into the net. Earlier the goalkeeper had headed the ball straight to Defoe, whose goalbound shot struck Robbie Keane and at the death the Australian passed straight to Michael Carrick, only for his effort to roll narrowly wide.
Jol was delighted with the result but irritated that his team didn't score "four or five". Such a post-match claim would have seemed absurd judging by the events of the first-half hour. Then it was Middlesbrough, prompted by the incisive Stewart Downing and despite playing their third game in a week, who were in control. But Ray Parlour, Chris Riggott and Mark Viduka all failed to capitalise on Downing's accurate crosses.
And then Queudrue intervened. He lost possession near the touchline only to jump at Noe Pamarot and catch him on the ankle. Dowd instantly brandished a red card - the sixth in four seasons for Queudrue. Middlesbrough were incredulous, apoplectic. At half time McClaren marched into the centre circle to confront the referee. "You were too quick. You had time to think," he shouted as they eventually walked down the tunnel.
Despite being a man short McClaren thought his team could win, such was Spurs' nervousness. He kept both strikers on but it proved a foolhardy policy.
Jol's side had struggled to provide the width he desired until they had numerical supremacy. Suddenly space opened up with Defoe, in particular, revelling. Twice Kanouté dallied, while Defoe steered another shot over. No matter. Middlesbrough had already provided the own goals.
Goals: Defoe (48) 1-0; Kanouté (76) 2-0.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Robinson; Pamarot, Naybet, King, Atouba; Ricketts, Mendes, Carrick, Ziegler; Keane (Kanouté, 68), Defoe. Substitutes not used: Fulop (gk), Brown, Redknapp, Davenport.
Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; McMahon (Reiziger, 74), Southgate, Riggott, Queudrue; Parlour, Zenden, Boateng, Downing; Hasselbaink, Viduka (Nemeth, 80). Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Job, Doriva.
Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).
Booked: Tottenham: Defoe. Middlesbrough: Boateng, Parlour.
Sent off: Middlesbrough: Queudrue (40).
Man of the match: King