Villas-Boas dismisses talk of exit for impressive Defoe
Sunderland 1 Tottenham 2
In a Tottenham Hotspur squad full of expensive new recruits still trying to find their bearings, as well as form, Jermain Defoe is a reassuring presence Andre Villas-Boas does not want to lose in January.
Defoe should have had a hat-trick in the second half of this encouraging victory against a Sunderland side whose survival hopes are starting to look increasingly forlorn. He was sharp and, more significantly – given Spurs' problems scoring goals in open play – on the same wavelength as the creative players around him.
That, rather than the three chances he missed, will be the thing that Villas-Boas noted as he left his £26m summer signing Roberto Soldado on the bench.
Defoe is playing himself back into a central role under the Portuguese and back into England's World Cup plans as a result.
Having been heavily linked with a lucrative move to Major League Soccer franchise Toronto, the Canadians willing to give the 31-year-old star billing rather than confine him to the supporting cast he has been filling at Spurs, Defoe is not convinced that it is for him. "I've heard links with Toronto and West Ham and as we get close to the transfer window you are going to get speculation," Defoe said.
"It's out of your hands, sometimes you end up leaving a club where you want to stay and sometimes you get in the team of a club you think you are leaving, you end up playing well and stay.
"I've started the last two games and I'm happy. I've been patient, there are a lot of good players in the squad, but when your chance comes you've got to take it."
He could have done with taking one of the chances that came to him as Tottenham shredded Sunderland's defence in the second half. He put one header from an Aaron Lennon cross against the post, flicked another cross against the opposite one and dragged the best opening of them all wide after a brilliant pass from Lewis Holtby.
Villas-Boas was still impressed. Defoe has started in successive away wins, which have helped heal the wounds opened by the 6-0 thrashing at Manchester City and moved Spurs to within three points of second-placed Liverpool, whom they entertain next Sunday.
"We have three great strikers and it's a question of a choice and strategy," Villas-Boas said. "Jermain has been doing well so he deserves his place. It was a great performance from him. I cannot stop speculation coming, but I am extremely happy with Defoe.
"People can link him to other clubs, we can't stop that. It doesn't mean that we're going to accept any offer and I think he knows he is better staying in the Premier League for his England chances."
Sunderland took the lead when Adam Johnson punished a mistake by Hugo Lloris, but once again failed to hold on to it. A sloppy goal from a set-piece by Paulinho was followed by an own goal from John O'Shea, the fifth time a Sunderland player has put the ball in his own net in just nine games under Gus Poyet.
He has had enough of the mistakes, with three of their next four games against fellow strugglers. "It is not individuals who are not getting the message, it is the group," Poyet said.
"If it was one player it would be easy for me, because you drop him. If you do not share the urgency of our situation you are not being realistic."
"At the moment, we are not good enough. Sometimes being honest doesn't mean that you are negative. I am not, I am very positive. I am realistic and at the moment, that's what we are.
"The desire, the fighting, the spirit – the players are trying their best. At the moment, it's not enough, so we will see how we are going to change." (© Daily Telegraph, London)