When Tottenham Hotspur drew 2-2 at Wigan Athletic in April last season, few would have thought it would be almost eight months before Andre Villas-Boas' team would again score at least two goals in three successive Premier League games.
It had been quite a wait since that day at the DW Stadium, where Gareth Bale scored what proved to be one of his last three goals in a Spurs shirt, but Saturday evening's 2-1 victory at Sunderland gave a sense that the visitors are again finding their form.
Villas-Boas' players, who boosted their top-four hopes with the win, racked up 22 attempts at goal against Gus Poyet's rock-bottom hosts and they would have deservedly scored more goals through the midfield spark of Lewis Holtby, Paulinho and Moussa Dembele.
After a slow start and falling behind to Adam Johnson's goal, it had looked like the lack of creativity was set to continue in the trend of this season but Paulinho's reactionary strike and a John O'Shea own goal were deserved reward for changing the tide.
11 - Sunderland have lost 11 points from winning positions this season, the most in the Premier League. Lapse.- OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 7, 2013
It was a more expansive and attacking performance from Tottenham, who have now won six of their last nine away games in the league, to follow the 2-2 draw with Manchester United and the 2-1 win at Fulham.
In contrast, Sunderland self-destructed through some shambolic defending to mean they have now lost 11 points from winning positions this season but Tottenham were the talking point as they showed what they can do when Villas-Boas lets them go forward with pace and purpose.
Sunderland boss Poyet, a former Spurs player and coach, shuffled his pack, with Ondrej Celustka, Sebastian Larsson, Johnson and Steven Fletcher coming in for Andrea Dossena, Craig Gardner, Fabio Borini and Emanuele Giaccherini. It looked like it meant a shift in starting formation to 4-4-2 as Fletcher joined Jozy Altidore in a two-man strike-force supported by two out-and-out wingers. Poyet, who of course inherited the troubled squad from Paolo Di Canio, admitted in his pre-match interview with Sky Sports that he needed to "take a risk" in terms of leaving his team outnumbered in midfield in order to help create chances for his forwards.
England striker Jermain Defoe retained his place in the Tottenham line-up as summer signing Roberto Soldado had to make do with a seat on the bench. Villas-Boas made four changes in total as Kyle Naughton, Nacer Chadli, Dembele and Holtby replaced Jan Vertonghen, Vlad Chiriches, Sandro and Erik Lamela. Out-of-position midfielder Etienne Capoue had to play at centre-back in an injury-hit defence while naturally-right-footed Naughton was again at left-back.
Story of the game
For all of Poyet's pre-match talk about taking risks, his Sunderland team did not start in the 4-4-2 formation in which they appeared to be shaping up before kick-off. Indeed, Altidore dropped very deep. It meant Fletcher received only one pass from Johnson and Jack Colback, respectively, inside the opening 25 minutes.
Likewise, though, in the early stages, it was a familiar story with Tottenham, whose one-paced, slow build-up remained as a tale of their season. The bulk of their passing in the opening half-an-hour was painful to watch as they consistently played the ball sideways. One such incident saw Paulinho with the chance to break or play a ball forward to Defoe but the Brazilian halted and passed wide to the flanks. Neither side had even mustered a shot on target before Chadli headed a corner at Vito Mannone's goal in the 34th minute.
But shortly after that Chadli effort, Defoe - who had two shots without hitting the target in the first half while at the same time creating one chance - gave a glimpse of the danger Spurs offered when they attacked at speed. He dissected the Sunderland defence with a direct forward run before his shot was deflected wide. Whether or not Villas-Boas took it as a hint, it was a sign of what was to come from Tottenham in the second half.
Before half-time Paulinho had equalised Adam Johnson's goal, which had come after another mistake from Hugo Lloris, and the Brazilian's reflex finish after Chadli had kept alive Kyle Walker's deep free-kick at the far post exposed Sunderland's zonal-marking weaknesses. Sky Sports' Glenn Hoddle said at the break: "When you go in with zonal marking, as soon as the ball goes over your head, your next discipline as a defender is to switch back in and cut across to the near post. It is a drill. Sunderland were all over the place and had no line going in together and they paid the price."
The equaliser clearly boosted Tottenham going into half-time and they started the second half with much more intent, presumably with encouragement from Villas-Boas, and they took the lead in the 50th minute. Colback had done well to track back on Dembele but the Spurs midfielder had a further burst of power to create room for a cross which deflected into the back of the net off the helpless O'Shea. It was Sunderland's fifth own goal of the season, three more than any other Premier League team.
It was also a reward for Tottenham given their change in approach from the first half. Before the interval, 28% of the action areas had been in Sunderland's defensive third as opposed to 37.3% in the five minutes after the start of the second half. Tottenham demonstrated that, even in the post-Bale era, they are at their best when looking to spring attacks at speed and it set the tone for their most dangerous moments.
Tottenham did ease off the pressure slightly after taking the lead and Villas-Boas' team were even fortunate not to give away a penalty for what looked like handball by substitute Sandro in the 18-yard area. Sunderland substitute Fabio Borini also hit a great chance straight at Lloris.
But Tottenham, who along with Newcastle have still failed to score more than two goals in a single Premier League game this season, still looked a danger on the counter-attack against a Sunderland defence which appeared surprisingly disorganised given the experienced presence of both former Manchester United men O'Shea and Wes Brown.
Holtby, who attempted six shots and created four chances, Paulinho, who had five shots - including his goal, and Dembele, who also created four chances, all showed what they are capable of if given the opportunity to swarm and raid forward. Villas-Boas must continue to let his creative players off the leash.
"Something can happen in the last minute, a simple foul, but the ball is played in and it drops and they are better than us, they are quicker than us. And once more an own goal, I do not know what to say about that. I have never seen it before."
"It was a great win for the players, the players were absolutely outstanding. It is them that work hard on the pitch and sweat for us. They achieved a great, great win. It could have been one of those situations again where we rue our missed chances, but it was not and I think the only winner could have been Tottenham."
"On the balance of play, I thought the second-half was as good as I have seen Tottenham play for a long time. That is what the fans want to see. They want to see chances created and moving the ball as fast as possible. That is exactly what they did in the second half. It was a classy performance but there should have been more goals."