A first win of the season for Tottenham Hotspur and perhaps one that will kickstart it's season, but it was hardly the most convincing performance against a Sunderland side that ended the day in its familiar position at the foot of the table. Tottenham was never fluent and Sunderland twice hit the woodwork in a game that was simultaneously scrappy and dotted with moments of fine play. From both sides, you suspect, there is more to come.
Sunderland, certainly, can draw encouragement form the performance which was by some distance its most balanced and incisive of the season so far. Spurs had the better of the second half, it's true, but it had created little when Ryan Mason capitalised on a fine interchange between Harry Kane and Eric Lamela and dinked the ball over the Sunderland keeper Costel Pantilimon with eight minutes remaining.
The battling nature of the win speaks of the character at Spurs, but once again it feels the club is starting the season a month after everybody else, so determined is it to do its transfer business at the last possible moment. Son Heung-Min, bought from Bayer Leverkusen for £22million to ease the burden on Kane, was only intermittently involved. There were a couple of diagonal bursts that showed how he might link up with Kane, but the service to him was infrequent as Tottenham, slightly surprisingly, struggled to get a grip of midfield, an area where it has dominated this fixture in recent years.
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Tottenham had more of the ball but for long periods, particularly in the first half, it was Sunderland who seemed the more incisive. He did have Spurs' best chance of the first half, though, as Kyle Walker returned Nacer Chadli's cross to the center, with Pantilimon grounded, but as Jordi Gomez slid in, he missed his kick. He was withdrawn for Andros Townsend after 61 minutes after a debut that, although far from memorable, held signs of promise.
There is more pace in this Sunderland side than there has been for a couple of years. Yann M'Vila, although his temperament remains suspect, has added snap and a passing ability to the center, and Fabio Borini's return after a year away adds incisiveness from the left.
He scored seven league goals while on loan at Sunderland in 2013-14, as well as key strikes against Chelsea and Manchester City as the club reached the Capital One Cup final. Sunderland offered a permanent deal last season, but he preferred to fight for his place at Liverpool; his return after being frozen out at Anfield perhaps makes this more a marriage of convenience than a case of true romance, but that doesn't mean he can't be effective, and he was given warm applause when taken off for the young winger Duncan Watmore with 17 minutes remaining.
It was Jeremain Lens, though, signed from Dynamo Kyiv on the summer, who was the biggest threat, drifting in dangerously from the right and, on 25 minutes, he turned on halfway before arcing a perfect ball between the two Spurs center-backs for Jermain Defoe to run on to. The forward squeezed the ball past Hugo Lloris, but his shot came back off the post.
Against his former club, Defoe was lively through out, his running unsettling Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld. He nearly teed up a chance for Ola Toivonen with a smart return ball across the box after being released by Borini, and then turned inside Vertonghen and got a shot goalwards despite the defender having hold of his shirt -- an instance where the forward was punished for playing on rather than going down.
The longer the game went on, the more Tottenham came to take control and the more ragged Sunderland, aggrieved by a couple of refereeing decisions that went against them, appeared. Borini, Toivonen and Gomez are all lacking much first-tea, football of late, so it perhaps was no great surprise that they tired as Tottenham began to impose itself. It took time for the chances to come. There was an Eric Dier header that was straight at Pantilimon after 76 minutes, and Kane sliced a volleyed chance wide, but otherwise it was largely sterile possession, even after the arrival on Townsend had added a renewed energy.
And Tottenham was never secure, fortunate that when a Billy Jones shot was half blocked, Toivonen and Lens left the loose ball for each other, when either could have a clear shot from 10 yards out. Even after Lamela had worked the breakthrough for Mason, Jack Rodwell clipped a Younes Kaboul cut-back against the bar.
Spurs did enough, but if it is even to threaten Champions League qualification this season, there is a very long way to go.