The problem with making a strong statement is that it needs to be backed up with a strong performance. Juande Ramos tried to show how hard he can be by leaving out the want-away Dimitar Berbatov, and vilifying the striker on the club's website, but was left with a team that was soft. Such a limp defeat was not what the Tottenham head coach needed.
But August wouldn't be August without a crisis down at The Lane. Just ask Glenn Hoddle or Martin Jol. There's certainly no appetite for disposing with Ramos but chairman Daniel Levy and, even more intensely, sporting director Damien Comolli, who questioned Jol and championed the Spaniard, may both be somewhat worried by their side's defeat.
The turmoil at Spurs is only ever matched by the turnover of players. At least £45m spent this summer – with admittedly around £46m brought in – and yet only one striker and that, Darren Bent, one who the club was desperate to sell at the end of last season. A glance at the back of the programme shows that Spurs have just 20 first-team players – with Ramos denying squad numbers to such peripheral figures as Kevin Prince Boateng, Ricardo Rocha, Young-Pyo Lee, Paul Stalteri and Hossam Ghaly – while Sunderland, their opponents, have an admittedly unwieldy 38.
Ramos may take pride in the physical conditioning of his players, making much of the nine kilos that Tom Huddlestone lost last season and a few more this summer, but he has also pared back his squad. Spurs look lean, they look athletic but they also appear anaemic.
Desperate action is needed. And yet there is just one week of the transfer window to go. It looks, and is, unbalanced. So far David Bentley, all £15m of him, whose best position is right-wing has found himself on the left, against Middlesbrough, and through the centre, against Sunderland while Ramos gamely struggles to find a system having failed to find the right personnel. Liverpool have faced the same two opponents and are six points better off than Spurs.
Tottenham argue that what else could they do with Berbatov? Play him when he was being so disruptive? But any club with serious ambitions and serious management would have ensured they protected themselves first. And that meant replacing Robbie Keane for a start and not going into any match at home with three defenders but no striker on the bench. Especially when Sunderland had four.
This was a sweet, richly deserved victory for the visitors. There was also a delicious vindication for manager Roy Keane of his different approach to transfers this summer. He's no longer concerned with players with big hearts; he wants those who have a little nous. "Streetwise" he called it. And it was summed up in a typically cute performance by El Hadji Diouf. "There were situations where he took it down, held players off and won a free-kick. There were times last season when we were too naive, too raw," Keane said.
Diouf's behaviour – while not illegal – was certainly the kind of thing that infuriated Keane the player. But now he's the manager. And the agenda is different although he also added: "I don't think I can shy away from people with different character traits. I was no angel. If I had a dressing room full of angels then I would be really, really concerned. Trust me." And they do. It will have hurt Spurs supporters even more to hear the chant of "Keano" ringing around the ground. It came from the away end.
After the impressive Steed Malbranque, surplus to Ramos's requirements, had struck the post for Sunderland in the first-half, and Gareth Bale – who had a woeful afternoon missing three clear opportunities too – was booked for diving, Sunderland struck. Kieran Richardson nicked the ball away from Jermaine Jenas, after a poor clearance by Ledley King, and thumped home a 20-yard half-volley. Spurs rallied, prompted by Luka Modric whose ability to run with the ball spread panic. The Croat danced through to shoot, with the ball pushed out by Craig Gordon to Jenas who bundled it home.
Tottenham felt that should have been the cue for victory. Instead they capitulated. Again they stood off and the ball was ferried to Darryl Murphy whose cross flew over King's head – he certainly was slow to get off the ground – for substitute Djibril Cissé, who only signed for Sunderland on a season-long loan the day before, to easily head home. It earned the visitors their first win away to Spurs for 30 years. More relevantly for Keane, last season it took them until March to win away. "I think Sunderland is a big club but maybe before it had small ideas and ambitions," Keane said afterwards. Tottenham, another big club, have certainly not lacked ambition themselves over the years. But they are certainly short on ideas.
Goals: Richardson (55), 0-1; Jenas (73), 1-1; Cisse (82) 1-2.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-2-3-1): Gomes; Zokora, King, Woodgate, Assou-Ekotto (Huddlestone, 56); Jenas, Modric; Lennon (Giovani, 56), Bentley, Bale; Bent. Substitutes not used: Cesar (gk), Gilberto, Gunter, Dawson, O'Hara.
Sunderland (4-4-2): Gordon; Bardsley, Nosworthy, Collins, Higginbotham; Malbranque,
Whitehead, Richardson (Cissé, 66), Reid (Miller, 87); Diouf, Murphy. Substitutes not used: Ward (gk), Chopra, Leadbitter, Healy, Stokes.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral)
Bookings: Tottenham Bale; Sunderland Richardson, Malbranque.
Man of the match: Diouf.
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