A LACK OF ambition is certainly not an accusation which can be levelled against Gus Poyet.
Prior to kick-off yesterday, Sunderland supporters learned that Poyet had set his side a concrete points tally for the first time after telling the Echo that he wanted at least 16 on the board by the end of 2013.
In an attempt to take the opening step towards that tally, Poyet partnered Jozy Altidore and Steven Fletcher for the first time since the nine-man fiasco at Hull City, albeit it was a more fluid system than an orthodox 4-4-2.
But after a performance again undermined by self-inflicted wounds, that points tally now looks a big, big ask.
Eight points from four games is not an insurmountable task, particularly as that schedule includes three of their relegation rivals, starting with a crucial trip to West Ham next weekend.
But after seeing Crystal Palace move towards the water line and both Norwich and Stoke record crucial victories yesterday, Sunderland are running out of time to remain in contention.
The sand in the hourglass is beginning to plummet through and the situation looks more and more desperate.
Yes, Sunderland paid the price for another refereeing clanger after Lee Mason missed the most blatant of handballs by Spurs substitute Sandro.
Yet after twice hitting the woodwork and spurning a succession of chances during the second half, Spurs could easily have been out of sight by then.
Sunderland ultimately paid the price for their defensive deficiencies... again.
What looked to be a far more stable defensive unit under Poyet has reverted to type – goals shipped from set pieces and own goals, with Sunderland’s tally for the latter now standing at an astonishing five from the last nine games.
Even worse, Sunderland are conceding at pivotal stages.
Adam Johnson’s first goal of the season should have been the cue for Sunderland to see the game through until half-time.
If ever a goal summed up the change at style under Poyet, it was the opener.
Sunderland produced 15 passes in their build-up before Johnson took advantage of Hugo Lloris’ best Superman impression to break the deadlock.
But Sunderland’s inability to keep a clean sheet in those closing minutes of the first half was crucial.
From an indifferent opening, Spurs suddenly had a let-off and a platform to mirror the comeback against Sunderland’s relegation rivals Fulham in midweek.
Once John O’Shea’s own goal found the corner of the net, the game took on an entirely different complexion. Sunderland looked fatigued and utterly dispirited, arguably for the first time under Poyet.
Suddenly, it was a question of whether Spurs could add a third, as Sunderland’s goal lead a charmed life as the woodwork and a couple of last-gasp interventions saved them.
Sunderland barely saw any of the ball and even when they did, they couldn’t get first half dangerman Jozy Altidore in the game.
It took Sunderland until midway through the half to regain any composure and they would have been given a relegation lifeline, had Mason’s eye-sight from a perfect position not abandoned him.
But hard-luck tales, decent performances and near misses are no good.
Sunderland need points and they can’t find the knack of registering them.
* Don’t miss the Football Echo – the best read of the weekend. It’s out this morning.