THE idol of White Hart Lane returned to a rapturous reception, but there was no dream ending for Jermain Defoe as Christian Eriksen underlined his reputation as Tottenham's new last-gasp match-winner by finally cracking Sunderland's brave resistance.
Tottenham had toiled to find a way through the determined visiting rearguard, who looked like holding on for a hard-earned point before Eriksen intervened. It was the fifth time this season the outstanding Dane has struck late on to earn his side victory.
Sunderland's pain might have increased further, but an added-time effort from Jan Vertonghen, who rolled the ball home with Sunderland goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon stranded at the other end of the pitch having gone up for a corner, was puzzlingly ruled offside. "The referee and the linesman must have been confused - it was quick," said Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino. "It is difficult to understand why, but we are all human and can make a mistake."
Pochettino praised the persistence that has yielded a healthy number of late points this season. "Our fitness is very good," he said. "Also, you need to believe and stay strong in your mind."
At least Defoe, the former England striker who spent nine goal-laden seasons at Tottenham before leaving for Toronto a year ago, marked his Sunderland debut with a key part in the goal that brought his side level following Vertonghen's early opener.
He appeared to be in an offside position when he received the ball, but when he was tripped by Vertonghen, referee Chris Foy awarded the visitors a free-kick that was smashed home by Sebastian Larsson.
Defoe spent much of his 75-minute shift isolated as his team-mates defended manfully, but he had a reasonable penalty claim turned down and pleased his new manager with his efforts. "He started bright, sharp," said Gus Poyet. "He will get better and better. It was a good start."
Defoe received hugs from Mousa Dembele, Nacer Chadli, Kyle Walker and Roberto Soldado before kick-off, but it took just two minutes and 40 seconds for his old team to dispense with the niceties. Eriksen's cross into the penalty area was only half-cleared and Vertonghen adjusted his sights well before his clipped effort took a significant deflection off John O'Shea to leave Pantilimon stranded.
Spurs worked to regain the lead after Larsson's leveller, with Eriksen rewarding their industry by turning in substitute Andros Townsend's cross in the 88th minute.
Not that the drama finished there. Hugo Lloris preserved Spurs' lead with a brilliant stop from Danny Graham. Pantilimon went up for the corner, but Tottenham broke and, from Paulinho's pass, Vertonghen rolled the ball into an empty net, only to be ruled offside.