Tottenham sought to dismiss it as nothing but speculation and Tim Sherwood insisted all was business as usual down the Lane on Monday night. It ended with an emphatic victory for Sherwood’s side, meaning he has still won more games than he has lost, but that marginal advantage is not what Spurs’ hierarchy are looking for and that is why the man appointed manager in December is now expected to leave the role some time next month.
The club may insist on it but there are few who buy the official line that they will sit down with Sherwood come the end of the season to discuss the future and “to review how things have progressed”. If, as most believe, that is a future with someone else in charge – pick one from Louis van Gaal, Mauricio Pochettino and Frank de Boer – rather than Sherwood, then he will depart his first managerial role having squeezed a roller coaster of a tenure into five months.
This was a helter-skelter of a match that ended with the substitute Gylfi Sigurdsson slapping in a fifth goal in injury time to seal Sherwood’s biggest win in his 23rd game.
Sherwood was all smiles at the start and, despite the odd scowl when Sunderland took the lead and Spurs were denied a penalty at 1-1, he spent much of the game smiling and bantering with the crowd behind his dugout. They waved him off with cries of “Well done, Tim”.
How Sunderland would like to have Tottenham’s problems. They remain bottom of the Premier League, seven points adrift of Norwich in 17th. Gus Poyet’s side have games in hand – they still have seven to play – but it looks bleak. Among those games are trips to Chelsea and two to Manchester. Poyet’s hope will still to be in touch come the final two games, at home to West Bromwich Albion and Swansea City.
Sherwood shuffled his pack, or possibly the deckchairs on his own Titanic, making four changes to the side neatly shredded at Anfield eight days before. Emmanuel Adebayor, whose revitalisation had helped produce such a bright beginning to Sherwood’s time in charge, returned after missing three games with a hamstring injury. Sherwood gave Adebayor company up front as well with the inclusion of Harry Kane on his first league start for Spurs; behind the front two Vlad Chiriches, for the first time since last January, and Paulinho were brought back. Poyet, whose arrival in the dugout area was greeted by warm man-hugs from Les Ferdinand and Steffen Freund on the Uruguayan’s return to White Hart Lane, dropped John O’Shea for Carlos Cuellar and placed him in the middle of three centre-halves in another tinker with Sunderland’s formation.
Its initial effect was to give Tottenham ample early room down the flanks but sloppy crossing too often sailed high and wide of the intended target. It was one such effort that almost brought the home side the opening goal when Christian Eriksen’s overhit cross forced Vito Mannone to scramble the ball over his crossbar.
It was sloppiness at the other end that gifted Sunderland the lead. Chiriches and his goalkeeper Hugo Lloris got themselves in a muddle over a throw-in, whereupon the panicked Romanian rolled the ball straight to Lee Cattermole, who accepted the gift with the delight of a man who has scored one league goal in six years. It was his first for Sunderland.
On a surface becoming ever more slippery as the April showers turned full-time, the game opened up in frenetic, error-strewn but entertaining fashion; in other words, pretty much standard Premier League fare. Kyle Naughton shot inches wide before the omnipresent Cattermole set up Fabio Borini for an effort Lloris turned round the post.
The equaliser owed something to the conditions, Eriksen’s low cross skipping across the surface and defeating Wes Brown’s attempt to clear. Instead the ball bounced off Adebayor’s thigh and past Mannone. It was his 12th of the season. He should have made it 13 after another Eriksen cross but made contact only with thin air.
Poyet departed early for half-time, retreating down the tunnel yelling obscenely over his shoulder at the fourth official and perhaps the football world in general. Sherwood grinned after him. The roles were reversed early in the second half with Sherwood bouncing up the tunnel turning the air blue when Cuellar caught Kane inside the box, only for the referee Lee Mason to give a corner instead of the penalty it appeared to be.
The Spurs manager was a deal happier minutes later and again much of it was down to Eriksen. The 22-year-old whipped in another low centre, which Brown failed to deal with, and Kane steered the ball home. After an anxious start Kane had grown into the game and he recovered from a nasty clash of heads soon after his goal to link up with Adebayor with increasing confidence as the match became stretched.
Sunderland threatened little in the second half, with only the home side’s nervousness at the back offering any hope. Eriksen settled it as a contest 13 minutes from the end, producing a skidding shot which slipped past Mannone with the aid of a slight deflection. It was the least the Dane deserved.
Adebayor’s energetic performance was also rewarded when he scored from an offside position after Mannone had allowed Kane’s shot to slip from his grasp.
Spurs: Lloris, Naughton, Kaboul, Chiriches, Rose, Lennon, Chadli, Paulinho, Eriksen, Adebayor, Kane
Sunderland: Mannone, Vergini, Cuellar, Brown, Alonso, Ki, Bridcutt, Cattermole, Bardsley, Borini, Johnson
Goals. Tottenham Hotspur Adebayor 28, 86, Kane 59, Eriksen 78, Sigurdsson 90
Sunderland. Cattermole 17
Subs: Tottenham Sigurdsson (Chadli 82), Townsend (Lennon 84) Veljkovic (Paulinho 88).
Sunderland Gardner (Cuellar 72), Scocco (Cattermole 72)
Booked: Sunderland Alonso, Cattermole.
Man of the match Eriksen Match rating 7/10.
Possession: Tottenham 61% Sunderland 39%
Atts on target: Tottenham 11 Sunderland 6.
Referee L Mason (Manchester).