Tottenham Hotspur 5 Sunderland 1: Mark Douglas' match analysis

A brief flurry of early promise and over-achievement gave Sunderland hope, only for it to be dashed by two moments of characteristic defensive indecision

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images Craig Gardner of Sunderland looks dejected with Fabio Borini during the game against Spurs
Craig Gardner of Sunderland looks dejected with Fabio Borini during the game against Spurs

This felt like a fitting epitaph for the desperate survival bid mounted by Gus Poyet.

A brief flurry of early promise and over-achievement which gave Sunderland hope, only for it to be dashed by two moments of characteristic defensive indecision.

They departed North London clinging on to some first-half positives, but in the end quality told. As they have found out to their cost this season, it usually does.

Having spurned chances to collect points from a series of six-pointers after the mirage of Wembley, Sunderland embarked on a treacherous set of away days needing to pull something out of the bag.

When Lee Cattermole stroked a superb opener on 18 minutes, they dared to dream, to coin a phrase. What followed was a stark reminder of the size of the task from here on in.

On paper Tottenham looked like the weakest of their away opponents but they still have a team blessed with £100million of mostly attacking talent – and it requires epic levels of concentration to keep them at bay. As they have proved this season, Sunderland are simply not capable of that.

Twice their re-shaped defence allowed Tottenham strikers the freedom of the penalty area to steer shots past Vito Mannone and for the third goal Phil Bardsley’s boot sent the ball squirming past the Italian.

In truth, they looked every inch the relegation candidates they are. For all of Poyet’s bullishness, there have been too many mistakes this season – now they are coming home to roost.

It all added up to another blue Monday for the Black Cats. They have gone 19 games on this day without a win – at no point in the second half did they ever look like altering that dreadful record.

As a former Tottenham midfielder, perhaps Poyet was heeding his old employer’s motto ‘to dare is to do’ when he handed in his team sheet.

O’Shea’s omission could hardly be portrayed as an injustice given the number of mistakes the centre-back had committed lately but the identity of his replacement – the lightly-used Cuellar – was a genuine shock.

The deployment of Jozy Altidore with the under-21s was another sign of things to come under Poyet.

Having handed these players opportunity after opportunity to nail down a starting slot, it felt like there was a message behind the manager’s surprising team selection. For all that things change at Sunderland, some stay the same.

The alterations had the effect of sending a lightening bolt through Sunderland’s forward line – for once, they looked genuinely dangerous on the counter-attack – but they remained lightweight at the back.

Within ten minutes, Sunderland should have been ahead, by the 20 minute mark they were – and they could have had another. The Black Cats needed that re-modelled back four to hold firm when Christian Eriksen swung a cross into the box which took a wicked deflection off Marcos Alonso and required Vito Mannone to tip back peddle and tip over acrobatically.

After that the Black Cats started to dig their claws into the home side.

The unlikely goalscorers were queuing up. Wes Brown was close to breaking the deadlock with a terrific header from Adam Johnson’s swirling free-kick which dissected the Tottenham defence and flew agonisingly wide of Hugo Lloris’ left-hand post.

A goal did arrive three minutes later and remarkably, it was Lee Cattermole who converted a chance gift-wrapped from the home side. Vlad Chiriches and Lloris were guilty of complacency on the edge of their own penalty area and the Romanian’s lazy pass offered a clear sight of goal some 30 yards out.

When visiting fans saw Cattermole rushing on to it, they might have been forgiven for abandoning hope of taking an unlikely lead.

He had not scored in his entire Black Cats career and has barely looked like doing so, but his finish was absolutely sublime – stroked with the aplomb of a veteran forward with a long track record of scoring.

Spurs were stunned. Sunderland piled forward and Johnson was enjoying the space afforded to him by his new role.

Suddenly the away side looked convinced of their claims on this three points. Then the curse which has blighted Poyet’s survival plans duly struck again.

Having stood firm under greater pressure, Sunderland crumbled after the simplest of moves from the hosts.

Eriksen drifted down the Cats’ right-hand side, curled a decent ball into the box and Sunderland’s defence parted like the Red Sea. With a striker as predatory as Emmanuel Adebayor on the pitch, no second invitation was required. Timing his run well, he applied a decisive touch from close range to draw the teams level.

It was all vaguely reminiscent of Sunderland’s last trip to North London for the Capital One Cup final.

Just as they had done on that memorable afternoon, Poyet’s team looked so vulnerable when the opposition attacked with intent.

After a brief flurry from the visitors, Tottenham re-asserted themselves in the second half.

Bardsley trod on thin ice as he executed a last-ditch challenge on Harry Kane and the pressure began to build. Somewhat inevitably, it didn’t take long for the dam to burst.

Again it was a routine cross flung into the box and again, a striker was able to nip in front of Brown to apply a lethal touch.

This time it was young forward Kane able to breach Sunderland’s dodgy resistance.

Eriksen’s long-range effort beat Mannone via Bardsley’s boot before Adebayor and substitute Gylfi Sigurdsson compounded the misery.

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