Aaron Lennon sealed a come-from-behind victory for Tottenham as they beat Sunderland 2-1 at the Stadium of Light and strengthened their grip on a Champions League place.
Spurs controlled the match from start to finish, but were wasteful with the opportunities they created, and Sunderland punished them with a 40th-minute goal from John O’Shea.
But the visitors hit back strongly after the break, scoring twice in three minutes via a Carlos Cuellar own goal and Lennon’s powerful finish.
It could have been more had Jermain Defoe and the dismal Emmanuel Adebayor not blown other golden chances, but Tottenham still had enough for a sixth win in their last eight Premier League matches.
A talking point near the end of the match was sparked, however, when Gareth Bale was shown his fourth yellow card for diving this season - the winger complained to Sky Sports of being "booked for no reason" immediately after the game.
Both sides enjoyed significant Boxing Day victories and accordingly neither manager made major changes to their line-ups. Martin O’Neill was forced to swap Danny Rose for O’Shea as the defender is on loan from Spurs, while Andre Villas-Boas freshened up his central defence with Michael Dawson and Steven Caulker replacing William Gallas and Jan Vertonghen.
Tottenham dominated the first half, their fluid passing style on display from the earliest moments of the game.
It took them a while to convert that possession into chances, and it was Sunderland who struck the early warning shot, with Adam Johnson’s cross cut back by Stephane Sessegnon, only for Steven Fletcher for once not in the right place to poke home.
Spurs did eventually start to fashion opportunities , Adebayor with a right-footed dink smothered by Simon Mignolet after Aaron Lennon’s deft through ball, then Gareth Bale popping a header just over the bar after another surging run from Lennon.
The best chance of the lot, however, fell to Adebayor half an hour in. Cuellar, struggling to shake off the effects of a collision with his team-mate a few minutes before, let Defoe’s cross-come-shot slip through his legs, and Adebayor was left with a tap-in from two yards out. He hit the bar.
When Sunderland got their chance, O’Shea made no mistake. Sebastian Larsson’s free kick from the left led to a Fletcher shot well-saved by Hugo Lloris, but O’Shea was on hand to bury the rebound, for his first goal for the Mackems, and first in the Premier League for more than three years.
Spurs hit four second-half goals in their Boxing Day visit to Aston Villa, however, and picked up where they left off in the first half.
It was still a gift of a goal that led to the equaliser – Cuellar had more time than he realised dealing with Kyle Walker’s corner, but ended up heading straight into his own net.
And Lennon, via an unintentional one-two with his marker, then ran through the defence and buried a shot past Mignolet.
From that point, Sunderland struggled – Defoe could and should have made it three after a super run from Bale, but seemed to fall over as he took the shot.
Adebayor went one-on-one in the final 10 minutes with the goalkeeper, but again failed to kill the game off. Both times Mignolet deserved credit for making good stops.
Bale's yellow will see him suspended for Spurs' next game, however, and he clearly felt there was contact from Craig Gardner in the penalty area as he went to ground. Nonetheless, his last three bookings have all been diving-related.
Tottenham have allowed winning positions to slip through their fingers this season in the dying minutes, so with just a one-goal advantage there were nervy moments when Johnson whipped a teasing cross across goal with Fletcher well-positioned. Kyle Naughton made the vital clearance, which ensured that Spurs will enter 2013 on a high.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Aaron Lennon (Tottenham) – More than just pace. He was a creative force throughout the match, and grabbed the crucial goal to boot.
SUNDERLAND: Mignolet 7; Gardner 7, Kilgallon 6, O'Shea 7, Cuellar 5; Larsson 6, Colback 6, Johnson 7, McClean 6; Sessegnon 6, Fletcher 6. Subs: Bramble 6, Campbell 6, Wickham N/A.
TOTTENHAM: Lloris 7, Walker 6, Caulker 7, Dawson 7, Naughton 8, Lennon 8, Dembele 7, Sandro 7, Bale 7, Adebayor 5, Defoe 7. Subs: Parker N/A, Dempsey N/A, Sigurdsson N/A