The return of Jermain Defoe to English football with Sunderland was one that came out of nowhere in the 2015 January transfer window.
Gus Poyet’s men were defensively well set up but were totally toothless going forward, with the team only winning three games in the league.
It was obvious that Sunderland craved creativity and someone who could put the ball in the back of the net. Steven Fletcher, Danny Graham and Jozy Altidore were the men tasked with supplying the goals necessary in our yearly fight for survival.
The latter’s contribution to Sunderland was questionable - but his biggest one involved him and Defoe swapping teams, with the USA international going the other way to join Toronto FC.
In a strange twist of fate, Defoe’s debut saw him coming up against his former club Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. There was speculation about whether the striker would actually start just 24 hours after moving clubs, but start he did, magnifying Poyet’s desperation for someone to start sticking the ball in the back of the net.
It was clear that Defoe had been playing in the MLS. with his fitness levels way off the standard required, yet his eye for the goal was still impregnable.
Any pre-match optimism that Sunderland fans may have had going into the game took a dent after only three minutes, when John O’Shea deflected Jan Verthongen’s shot from outside the box past Costel Pantimilon and into the net.
In fairness to the away side, they displayed immense durability and solidity to withhold the pressure from Mauricio Pochettino’s men - especially Christian Eriksen who had two glorious chances saved by the Romanian goalkeeper.
Sunderland had an enormous chance of their own when the unmarked Steven Fletcher failed to direct Billy Jones’ cross into the net.
Thankfully, Fletcher wouldn’t have to rue his missed chance for too long when Seb Larsson served up one of his trademark sumptuous free kicks that rattled the net, leaving Hugo Lloris hapless and helpless in the Tottenham goal.
Tottenham came out firing in the second half and created an abundance of chances. That being said, Sunderland created chances of their own, though they were probably falling to the wrong men and not Defoe, who was taken off by this stage, failing to continue his record of scoring on his debut for every team he had played for.
Unfortunately, Eriksen struck with time running out, guiding Townsend’s pass in off the post from 20 yards out and leaving Sunderland only a point above the bottom three with an enormous game against Burnley coming the following week.
Sunderland were unlucky to lose but with the signing of Defoe completed, they could go into the rest of the season with far more optimism.
Gus Poyet was despondent but proud of the performance of his team - citing (and ruing) the missed chances.
It’s painful. I thought we were good enough to take something from the game. I think we need to learn. We lost the game today because of a couple of incidents, but I think we can take positives.
We created a great chance in the first half for Steven Fletcher, Danny Graham has forced a great save at the end and I think we should have had a penalty for a foul on Jermain Defoe. I’m sure Jermain going to give me plenty of positives.