Tottenham Hotspur 1 Sunderland 2: Berbatov casts shadow over Spurs as Cisse steals show

Restless Bulgarian absent from a Tottenham squad undone by Sunderland's new striker
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The Independent Football

Who is to replace the departed Robbie Keane? Who will come in for the about-to-depart Dimitar Berbatov? The fans who saw their team rattle in 46 goals in the League last season and who booed Tottenham off the field after this embarrassing – and deserved – defeat are understandably looking for answers. Darren Bent, so prolific a scorer in pre-season friendlies, does not look the answer, left alone and anonymous as Tottenham flailed around. It was ironic that, in the red and white of Sunderland, Steed Malbranque, another summer departure from White Hart Lane, was better than any of his former team-mates.

Though Kieran Richardson's rocket of a goal early in the second half stirred a brief, furious reaction from Tottenham, their equaliser by Jermaine Jenas never looked as if it would be the last goal and the exotic Djibril Cissé, familiar from his Liverpool days and an on-loan arrival from Marseille as part of Roy Keane's bulk buying, completed a joyous afternoon for the travelling faithful from the north-east and a thoroughly miserable one for home fans.

Half an hour before the kick-off Tottenham effectively gave up on Berbatov by leaving him out of their plans for the afternoon. Agitating for a move to Manchester United, he was said by the manager Juande Ramos, both before and after the game, to be "not in the right frame of mind. I don't feel he is focused enough and I don't feel he would be good for the dressing room or team effort."

Ramos has called a meeting with Berbatov today. "We want to clarify a few points. We want to know if he is going to be in any state to play the next game and depending on what he says I will make a decision." Another decision, about whether to fine the Bulgarian for his behaviour or dock his wages, is, said Ramos, "a matter for the club".

With no Berbatov to boo, the fans opted to offer a cheer or two instead for Malbranque, which he earned with a lively first-half display capped when, in the 38th minute, he took a pass from another former Tottenham man, Andy Reid, to unleash a low shot which rebounded from Heurelho Gomes's right-hand post and fell conveniently for Jonathan Woodgate to hack clear.

Of Tottenham's high-price summer signings David Bentley, operating just behind Bent, was busy without being especially effective, while the Croatian Luka Modric always struggled to cope with the pace of what was going on around him.

El-Hadji Diouf, booed with every touch, ran intelligently up front and Spurs' second stroke of good fortune came when his cleverly curled shot looked headed for Gomes's top corner until it struck Woodgate on the head.

Tottenham's main hope of finding a goal lay with Bentley, the designated free-kick and corner taker. One flag kick was just missed by the straining heads of Ledley King and Woodgate. For the rest, Spurs' facility for running into blind alleys clearly frustrated Ramos.

The concerns of the manager were well-founded. As he prepared to bring on Tom Huddlestone and Giovani dos Santos, Tottenham fell behind to Richardson's wonderful strike. Jenas dawdled in dealing with a poor clearance, Richardson robbed him, cut inside and hammered a rising right-foot shot about which Gomes knew little.

Spurs almost levelled seven minutes later. Craig Gordon glimpsed a Bentley free-kick late and managed only to shovel the ball as far as Woodgate, who blasted wide. Gordon did better to thrust over Bentley's shot on the turn as Tottenham pressed and, in the 73rd minute, came the equaliser. Modric, so anonymous for so long, burst through to get in a shot which Gordon, once again, could not hold. Modric had another go and this time the Sunderland goalkeeper pushed it straight to Jenas, who scored simply.

Sunderland, however, were not to be denied their first Premier League win at White Hart Lane. With seven minutes left Daryl Murphy crossed for Cissé, the replacement for Richardson after 66 minutes, to head solidly home. The chorus of "Kean-o" at the whistle was presumably for Roy, though it could well have been a lament for Robbie.