Spurs claimed plenty of pressure, with Ian Walker having to make only one save of note from a toothless Sunderland attack. But the days of swaggering victories, for which some of the fans still long, look as though they may be few and far between.
Teddy Sheringham's 82nd-minute goal, scored moments after he had side-footed a penalty against the post, at least generated an upbeat note to go alongside those sounded by the return of Darren Anderton, who had missed six games with injury, and Andy Sinton.
Although Anderton's run and cross set up Sheringham's goal, his return was mostly a tentative one, designed to achieve fitness at minimum risk. Instead it was Sinton who hit the ground running, buzzing past two challenges before driving home a 20-yard shot after 13 minutes.
But it wasn't just his goal that illuminated Sinton's performance. He tackled back, he took men on and he got in any number of crosses which Chris Armstrong or Sheringham might have converted into more goals. "It should have been over by half-time," the Spurs manager, Gerry Francis, lamented.
Instead they were indebted to an X-certificate miss by Sunderland's Kevin Ball to preserve their lead. Moving on to a Michael Bridges knockdown, the unmarked Ball managed to hit his left-foot shot wide from six yards, with the Spurs crowd already groaning in dread.
This spurt of action put a better gloss on a half in which the referee had discerned enough competitive edge to issue six bookings, none of which seemed particularly deserved.
But the message had plainly not got through to Stewart, who chased Anderton's mishit back-pass and jumped in on Colin Calderwood for an inevitable red card. "It wasn't bad luck this time," said Peter Reid, the Sunderland manager, referring to Stewart's earlier dismissal at Arsenal. "It was lack of professionalism, a case of pushing the self-destruct button."
It was hinted that Stewart, who won an FA Cup winner's medal with Tottenham in 1991, will have fewer happy memories of this return once he has been disciplined by the club.
Sunderland, who are intent on building a new stadium and enjoying a big- time market flotation, might take another warning from the White Hart Lane experience - that the horse goes in front of the cart.Reuse content