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Aaron Lennon kept Tottenham Hotspur’s UEFA Champions League challenge alive as his side came from behind to win 2-1 at Sunderland.
Spurs trailed at the break to John O’Shea’s first goal for the Black Cats despite having enjoyed the better of a first half during which Emmanuel Adebayor hit the bar from just a few yards out. However, Carlos Cuellar’s own goal three minutes after the restart gave the visitors a foothold, and they took full advantage with 51 minutes gone when Lennon sped through to beat goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
Had it not been for the Belgian’s excellence, Jermain Defoe would have wrapped up the points on the hour with a shot from point-blank range which looked odds-on to end up in the net, and he also kept out Adebayor’s late effort. Martin O’Neill’s side battled manfully for a way back into the game, but Spurs held out with little difficulty to claim a second successive Barclays Premier League win on the road.
Sunderland headed into the game with confidence having dispensed with champions Manchester City on Boxing Day to claim a third victory in four league outings. But O’Neill was under no illusions as to how difficult a contest it would prove to be having seen Spurs dismantle former club Aston Villa in their last outing.
In the event, two sides with a reputation for hitting teams hard and fast on the counter started relatively cautiously and genuine chances were few and far between during the opening 45 minutes. Adebayor failed to make the most of Gareth Bale’s enterprising fourth-minute run and pull-back, and Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was able to collect Craig Gardner’s deflected free-kick with little difficulty.
As the half wore on, Sunderland worked their way into several promising positions, but Stephane Sessegnon and James McClean were able to pick out only Lloris with their final balls. Tottenham began to shade the game in terms of possession and they created a series of openings.
Sandro could not extend Mignolet with a bouncing 21st-minute shot from distance, and Bale was wasteful when presented with a headed chance by Lennon, who was giving makeshift left-back Matt Kilgallon a tough time. In the meantime, Mignolet had rushed from his line to block Adebayor’s flick after the strike had been played in by Sandro, but the Togo forward might have put the visitors ahead on the half-hour.
Cuellar failed to cut out Jermain Defoe’s curling shot, although he took the pace off it to allow Adebayor to get to the loose ball before Mignolet. However, the striker managed to hit the bar from just a few yards and Sunderland were able to breathe again.
The home side created their first effort of note seven minutes before the break when Cuellar looped a header over from Adam Johnson’s free-kick, and it was they who took the lead two minutes later. Neither Stephen Fletcher nor O’Shea could make meaningful contact with Sebastian Larsson’s free-kick as it sped towards goal, but after the Scot had his follow-up blocked by Lloris, the Republic of Ireland defender, back in the starting line-up after illness, swept the ball into the unguarded net.
O’Neill’s men returned in determined mood and the way Johnson went past Bale before seeing his cross hacked clear by Sandro might have proved inspirational. However, their lead and optimism evaporated within six minutes. Cuellar headed a 48th-minute corner into his own net, and things went from bad to worse for the home side just three minutes later. Lennon attempted to lay the ball off, but it hit O’Shea and bounced back to the winger’s feet, and he raced in on goal to score.
Spurs could have ended the game as a contest on the hour when Bale, who was later booked for simulation, sprinted from halfway before picking out Defoe in front of goal. The England striker had time to control before shooting, but Mignolet pulled off a breathtaking save to keep his side’s hopes alive.
Sunderland poured forward in the search of an equaliser, in the process leaving themselves vulnerable at the back, but neither side could increase their tally with Mignolet keeping out Adebayor eight minutes from time, and that proved more than satisfactory for the visitors.
Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill: “We fought really hard to get ourselves in front in the game. Tottenham hit the bar from a chance we maybe should have cleared, but I don’t remember them causing us a great deal of problems in the first half.
“We got the goal and it gave us something to go for in the second half but then we came out and conceded two goals in two minutes it was a major blow and the own goal changed the momentum of the game.
“There were moments when we had really decent possession and it’s from there where you need to choose the right option. That is the making of real big players in this league – making the right choices at the right time.
“It was a good effort from the players. Maybe they were feeling the effects of Boxing Day a little, especially with 10 minutes to go; we needed a second breath to get at them. We stuck at it right to the end, still putting pressure on Spurs. The team never gave up, nor did the crowd.”
Tottenham head coach Andre Villas-Boas: "Very good. We made the game a little bit more difficult; in the first half we dominated and had the best chances but then went a goal down from a set play.
"We came very strong mentally in the second half and we got what we deserved. An excellent performance."
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