CHRISTIAN Eriksen’s late winner denied Sunderland a point at Tottenham, as the Black Cats suffered a cruel finale on Jermain Defoe’s debut.
Sunderland were on track for a 12th top flight draw of the campaign after recovering from an early set-back at White Hart Lane, but come away with nothing after Eriksen’s winner with two minutes to go.
Jan Vertonghen had given Spurs a third minute lead when his shot took a wicked deflection off John O’Shea and left Costel Pantilimon with no chance.
But Sunderland fought back, with Seb Larsson converting a brilliant free-kick from 25 yards after Defoe was brought down.
Spurs were on top in the second half, but Sunderland were able to contain the hosts until Eriksen struck from the edge of the area.
Substitute Danny Graham, who had earlier missed a great chance, could have levelled in stoppage time, but was denied by a brilliant save from Spurs stopper Hugo Lloris.
Defoe started up front alongside fit-again Steven Fletcher, yet it wasn’t the presence of the England striker in the line-up which was as much of a surprise as Sunderland’s system.
Gus Poyet opted for a 3-5-2 formation to accommodate Defoe in a strike double-act - the first time he had used that ploy since April’s 5-1 rout at Spurs.
Billy Jones and Patrick van Aanholt occupied the wing-back slots, while Jack Rodwell, Seb Larsson and Adam Johnson formed the central midfield trio.
Ex-Sunderland loanee Danny Rose started for Spurs, who made two changes from the side which lost at Crystal Palace in their last Premier League outing.
However, Sunderland endured a nightmare start after conceding within the opening three minutes when Spurs benefited from a huge slice of fortune.
Christian Eriksen took a free-kick short on the right, before receiving the ball back and swinging a cross into the area.
Santiago Vergini could only clear as far as Jan Vertonghen just inside the area, whose shot took a huge deflection off John O’Shea and ended up in the net with Costel Pantilimon completely wrong-footed.
Moments later, Sunderland had a penalty appeal waved away when Defoe went down under Vertonghen’s challenge, although replays showed the striker was already going to ground when contact was made.
Sunderland settled pretty well from the early blow in the exchanges that followed, but they needed Pantilimon to produce a smart stop in the 18th minute to keep out Eriksen’s low shot after O’Shea was unable to clear Rose’s pull-back from the left.
Spurs had a far better opportunity to double their advantage in the 25th minute when Roberto Soldado was played onside by Vergini to Vertonghen’s ball over the top.
But Soldado never looked confident in the one-on-one, with Pantilimon smothering well at the striker’s feet.
Moments later, Pantilimon produced an even better save to keep out a scorching long-range effort from Eriksen - pushing the shot away high to his right.
However, Sunderland should have pulled level in the 28th minute after a howling miss from Fletcher.
Jones produced an excellent low cross from the right which was on a plate for Fletcher six yards out, but the ball skimmed off his left foot and wide.
The reprieve for Spurs lasted just three minutes though before Sunderland pulled level after Defoe was brought down by Vertonghen 25 yards out.
Larsson stepped up and curled an absolute peach into the top corner, which left keeper Hugo Lloris with no chance whatsoever.
Spurs almost regained the advantage on the stroke of half-time though when Harry Kane’s angled drive from 20 yards crashed against the outside of the post, before Rose’s rebound was saved by Pantilimon.
HALF-TIME Spurs 1 Sunderland 1
Spurs the running at the start of the second half, albeit Sunderland were not unduly troubled.
Eriksen did well to produce an effort on goal in the 56th minute when he managed to bring a game of head-tennis under control on the edge of the area before letting fly with a half-volley which bounced just wide.
Spurs began to crank up the heat though; Kane whistling an angled drive a couple of yards wide from long range.
Nacer Chadli then forced Pantilimon into a one-handed save in the 66th minute after benefiting from a richochet off O’Shea, just inside the area, but his shot was kept out by the Sunderland keeper low to his right.
As the half dragged on though, it was unable to match the spectacle of the first.
Kane’s cross from the left almost deceived Pantilimon with 10 minutes to go, before the keeper readjusted and turned it away at the back post.
And then Sunderland had a golden chance to go ahead when Johnson’s long-range effort was kept out well by Lloris high to his right.
The rebound landed invitingly for substitute Danny Graham to the left of goal, but the striker could only send a shot straight at Lloris.
But with two minutes of normal time remaining, Spurs regained the lead after substitute Andros Townsend galloped down the right and pulled the ball back to the edge of the area.
Eriksen ran onto it and hit a right-footed shot which hit the inside of the far post and rolled into the net.
However, Sunderland came desperately close to levelling in stoppage time when van Aanholt threaded Graham in goal, but the striker’s powerful first-time right-footed shot was brilliantly turned away by Lloris.
Spurs were wrongly disallowed a third in stoppage time when Vertonghen rolled the ball into the empty net when Pantilimon was forward for a last-gasp corner, but the referee ruled it out for offside.
FULL-TIME Spurs 2 Sunderland 1
SPURS: Lloris, Walker, Dier, Vertonghen, Rose, Dembele (Townsend 75), Stambouli, Chadli (Paulinho 87) Kane, Eriksen, Soldado (Adebayor 61). Subs not used: Vorm, Davies, Naughton, Capoue. Booked: Vertonghen (30)
Pantilimon, Jones (Buckley 90), van Aanholt, Brown, O’Shea, Vergini, Larsson, Rodwell, Johnson, Fletcher (Wickham 65), Defoe (Graham 75). Subs not used: Wickham, Gomez, Coates, Giaccherini, Mannone. Booked: Rodwell (58), Jones (87)