With just the one defeat in the previous eight games, Peter Reid could be forgiven for thinking the opportunity for their first win in London in quite a while could be just around the corner as they visited George Graham’s Tottenham.
Despite their fantastic start to the season, Sunderland were continually haunted by their long winless run in the capital where they hadn’t tasted defeat in the previous 22 occasions.
This game was seen as the perfect opportunity due to their own rich vein of form, and Spurs’ indifferent start with Graham under pressure.
With the White Hart Lane crowd behind them, Tottenham made a very bright start to the game, whereas Sunderland appeared to be taking the ‘patient’ approach and looking to soak up the early pressure from their opposition.
We had our goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen to thank, as he was almost solely responsible for keeping them in the game early on.
Spurs had three good chances within a couple of minutes. First Ferdinand goalward header from a Carr cross was saved by Sorensen, and then the Dane thwarted Ramon Vega who shot from short range from a corner. Next to try was Anderton with a low shot into the side netting. There was a nice exchange between Anderton and Rebrov, and Ferdinand had another headed chance go wide from Anderton’s cross.
The away side were emboldened from surviving these early chances and we grew into the game as the first half wore on.
Don Hutchinson was having a stormer of a game early on where his marker Ben Thatcher was having a nightmare.
Hutchison played on the right flank for Sunderland, and was able to beat Thatcher with impunity, and embarrassingly so at times.
Hutchinson had an early goal ruled out for offside before Sunderland’s best two opportunities directly involved the winger.
Phillips was allowed the freedom of the right wing, and his cross was headed over the bar by Don Hutchison. Sullivan had to get down smartly to a Phillips free kick, conceded on the edge of the area by Vega. Almost on the half hour, Thatcher was left behind by Hutchison, and Vega failed to meet his cross, leaving Quinn with a chance beyond the back post. Quinn stretched to reach, and luckily Spurs was unable to hit the target.
This was before Vega handed us an enormous chance to take the lead when he handled the ball in the box. In uncharacteristic fashion, Kevin Phillips failed to add to his five goal tally by blasting a right foot shot over the bar from the spot.
As the game neared its halfway point, Spurs began to get on top again. Sergei Rebrov and Stephen Carr were causing issues for Sunderland. Carr had set up Rebrov for a decent chance a minute later, Spurs took the lead from a corner won by the Irish full back which was poked in from point blank range by Tim Sherwood.
If the first half was dramatic and frenetic, the second was the complete opposite. Sorensen had barely anything to do whilst we didn’t create much ourselves - yet there were two more goals in this half!
Don Hutchinson, who was likely our best player on the pitch throughout the entire game got us back on level terms. When Stephen Carr was penalised for bringing down Phillips on the right side, after a quick counter-attack by Sunderland, Rae took the free kick and Hutchison rose beyond the back post to head home.
It was probably just what Sunderland deserved and now they were chasing the winner - with their enthusiasm ultimately undoing them.
This time it was Spurs playing like the away side, as they swiftly countered, and Armstrong ran onto Sherwood’s long ball, got into the area, and then shot between Sorensen’s legs to give us the crucial lead.
Armstrong was only on the pitch seven minutes when he put the home side back in the lead and his goal turned out to be the vital winner.
Sunderland huffed and puffed for the final quarter of the game but ultimately were made to pay for missing a crucial penalty in the first half.
Spurs (3-5-2):- Sullivan; Perry, Young, Vega; Carr, Anderton, Sherwood (Capt.), Clemence, Thatcher; Rebrov (sub Armstrong, 71), Ferdinand
Subs not used:- Walker; Thelwell, King, Dominguez
Sunderland (4-4-2):- Sorensen; Makin, Varga, Craddock, Gray (Capt.); Hutchison, Rae, Williams, Arca (sub Oster, 76); Quinn, Phillips
Subs not used:- Macho (GK); Thirlwell, Reddy, Dichio