Daryl Murphy's deftness of touch, allied to his doggedness, earned more than just a late point for Sunderland. Having regularly chanted "We want [chairman Bob] Murray out", the metamorphosis of the crowd's mood - "It was like we'd won the World Cup," the striker Kevin Kyle said afterwards - showed the strike had more than statistical value.
It may have earned their manager Mick McCarthy a stay of execution. McCarthy, though, refused to elaborate on his televised comment immediately after the game that if Jermaine Jenas had scored a late winner, with an outstanding chance, it could have been "the final nail in my coffin".
Psychologically, there is no doubt this comeback could prove a turning point. Before this match, Sunderland had lost all 14 in which they have conceded the first goal and failed to score in five of their previous six home Premiership games.
During a game that was woefully short on invention, Robbie Keane's goal looked sufficient. "Up until they scored, it looked like it had 0-0 draw written all over it," McCarthy admitted.
Murphy's goal arguably hurt Tottenham more than any of their three previous away games - all of which they lost. Their manager Martin Jol felt that the result confirmed an unpalatable truth for his team.
"We are still not a top side," he said. "You can look for positives all the time but Sunderland are maybe relegated already. Every team in the Premiership are capable of scoring one goal so we have to kill them off."
The timing of the goal made it all the more painful, considering the way in which they lost at Fulham last week when Carlos Bocanegra stole the points in the 90th minute. Tottenham now have just one clean sheet in their past 11 Premiership away games.
Tottenham started well enough, probing patiently, but did not do enough to invigorate a static opening 20 minutes. Sunderland managed the first attempt as Tommy Miller's 20th-minute strike forced Paul Robinson into a low save.
Sunderland were temporarily galvanised by that opening but there was little ingenuity in the final third and Tottenham retained the ascendancy towards the end of the half. Keane and Lee Young-Pyo swiftly exchanged passes on the edge of the penalty area, before the Irish striker miscued his finish. Aaron Lennon's alertness handed Tottenham another clear opening when he quickly chipped a free-kick into Keane's path, but the striker fired wide.
The momentum was building, though, and the inevitable occurred. Sunderland's high defensive line was made to look totally disjointed as Michael Carrick fed Jermain Defoe, and the England striker dashed down the right flank before slipping the ball across the box for Keane to tap in.
Sunderland drove forward purposefully in the second half and should have equalised after an hour when Jonathan Stead's perfectly weighted pass was missed by Liam Lawrence, who would surely have scored with even the faintest of touches.
The balance of power had shifted away from Tottenham. Edgar Davids was given a difficult start to the half by the industrious Grant Leadbitter and the way he helped to wrestle the midfield struggle back to Sunderland's favour helped to change the game.
The hosts earned their reward when Murphy adroitly dragged the ball back, out-foxing Paul Stalteri, before running around the right-back and shooting low into the far corner.
Goals: Keane (38) 0-1; Murphy (89) 1-1.
Sunderland (4-4-2): Davis; Nosworthy, Breen, D Collins, Hoyte; Lawrence (Murphy, 75), Bassila (Leadbitter, 45), Miller, Arca; Kyle, Stead (Le Tallec, 90). Substitutes not used: Alnwick (gk), Woods.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Robinson; Stalteri, Dawson, King, Lee; Jenas, Carrick, Davids (Murphy, 63), Lennon (Huddlestone, 86); Keane (Mido, 70), Defoe. Substitutes not used: Cerny (gk), Gardner.
Referee: A Marriner (West Midlands).
Booked: Sunderland Kyle, Arca; Tottenham Hotspur Murphy.
Man of the match: Leadbitter.
Attendance: 34,700.Reuse content