Sullen Pavlyuchenko proves his worth

Tottenham Hotspur 1 Sunderland 0

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Breadth of attacking options, perhaps more than anything else, is why Tottenham moved into third place to finish the weekend as London's top team.

Yesterday Spurs coped with the absence of Gareth Bale and an injury to Aaron Lennon to overcome Martin O'Neill's newly-resilient Sunderland. The only goal came from Roman Pavlyuchenko, a third-choice centre-forward surely better than his counterparts at Arsenal or Chelsea.

Pavlyuchenko might not be delighted with his situation at White Hart Lane, judging by the sullen way he trudged off at the end but he certainly still has the ability to make himself useful to Spurs. His goal was a characteristically clean strike.

"Pav popped up with a great finish to win the game for us," Redknapp said. "He's a fantastic player, he's got real talent, great ability. I work with him every day in training, left foot, right foot, great finisher. He's top drawer."

The goal came after an hour of rather uninspiring football from Spurs. Without Bale and, after 26 minutes, Lennon, they missed the speed and incision of their wingers. "We normally play with lots of pace down the flanks," Redknapp said. "But we lost Gareth Bale with an ankle injury yesterday and Aaron Lennon tore a hamstring early in the game, so it took the pace away that we normally counter-attack with. We had to play slightly differently."

Sunderland did not make it easy. This may have only been Martin O'Neill's second game in charge, but his team look already like one inculcated with some necessary virtues: discipline, commitment and focus, all of which were allowed to slip into abeyance during Steve Bruce's tenure.

"In terms of effort I couldn't ask for much more," O'Neill said. "Just a bit misguided here and there but overall there were a lot of things that were pretty good about us, and we certainly never gave up. I didn't think that any player wearing a Sunderland shirt today downed tools."

Spurs certainly missed Bale, who had an ankle injury which he may overcome in time for Thursday's game with Chelsea. Redknapp brought Sandro into midfield, pushing Luka Modric onto the left wing. Modric may be brilliant, but he is not a winger, and Spurs missed his artful direction in the opening spell just as much as they missed Bale's gallops. Those brighter moments that Tottenham did manage came when Modric drifted inside. He started a move which ended with Benoit Assou-Ekotto's shot hitting Rafael van der Vaart, and nearly played Lennon in behind Phil Bardsley.

When, after 25 minutes, Lennon went off with the torn hamstring which will rule him out of the entire Christmas programme, Spurs were further blunted. Redknapp surprisingly turned to Pavlyuchenko, leaving a narrow 4-4-2, with Van der Vaart mirroring Modric's nominally left-wing role. The manager was not certain, though, that Van der Vaart would be able to play in the same role against Chelsea.

Pavlyuchenko did find himself on the end of Tottenham's best chance of the first half, which came in its final minute. Scott Parker broke down the left and crossed to the near post, where Kieren Westwood beat Pavlyuchenko to the ball, pushing it onto the striker and inches wide of the goal.

O'Neill would have been the happier manager at the interval, and his replacement of Connor Wickham with Nicklas Bendtner signalled a belief that a win might be attainable. Two minutes after the break, David Vaughan, Sunderland's most impressive player, ran forward and obliged Brad Friedel to make a rare save. Just when Spurs might have started to worry, as the game entered its second hour, their two creators combined to build the winning goal. Wes Brown lost the ball and Modric found Van der Vaart. The Dutchman played a delightful reverse pass to Pavlyuchenko, who shot right-footed into the far bottom corner of the net.

Buoyed by the lead, Tottenham's attacking football grew in conviction and incision. "Once we scored we opened up," said Redknapp.

O'Neill said: "When they got the goal you could see a change of emphasis, a type of swagger to them again."

Only an unfathomable error denied them a second goal: Modric clipped the ball over an open goal from eight yards out, after Westwood had parried Emmanuel Adebayor's chip.

It was a miss that would have embarrassed any player, never mind arguably the finest technical footballer in the division.

Tottenham continued to push forward. Referee Mike Dean might have awarded them a penalty rather than a free-kick when Titus Bramble tripped Pavlyuchenko on the line of the Spurs penalty area.

Adebayor had a close range attempt saved by Westwood, and Pavlyuchenko went close, shooting powerfully but narrowly wide from distance.

The lack of a second could have cost Tottenham, as Sunderland created the game's final chance: Bendtner played a one-two with Stephane Sessegnon but volleyed the ball wide with his left foot.

Substitutes: Tottenham Pavlyuchenko 7 (Lennon, 27), Livermore (Sandro, 82), Rose (Van der Vaart, 89). Sunderland Bendtner 6 (Wickham, h-t), McClean 5 (Bardsley, 69), Gardner (Colback, 75).

Booked: Tottenham Assou-Ekotto. Sunderland Richardson, Vaughan.

Man of the match Van der Vaart. Match rating 4/10.

Possession: Tottenham 60% Sunderland 40%.

Attempts on target: Tottenham 12 Sunderland 4.

Referee M Dean (Wirral). Attendance 36,021.

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