MARTIN O’Neill left White Hart Lane last night knowing that, although Tottenham were the better side on the day, Sunderland might still have left with a point.
Without several of their star players, Spurs were not as slick as they would have hoped to have been.
And the Black Cats’ boss felt his side’s mission to smother the game was on course to succeed, only for Sunderland to shoot themselves in the foot.
Occasional unforced errors from the visitors were always a concern and just after the hour there was one misplaced pass too many when Spurs took advantage and scored the only goal of the game.
“I’m disappointed to lose the match,” said O’Neill. “I thought, in terms of effort, I couldn’t ask for much more from them.
“We were a bit misguided here and there during the game, but overall, certainly, there were a lot of things that were good about us and I particularly liked the fact that we never stopped going.”
O’Neill never gave up hoping himself that having gone behind – just as Sunderland did in his first game against Blackburn Rovers – they might still be able to get something at the death.
“It was unrelenting stuff from a really fine Spurs side,” he said.
“But, unfortunately, in the game, the only goal has been scored with us in decent possession.
“We gave it away and Tottenham pounced on it.
“I know we could easily have lost by more when we went chasing the game, but, while it was still 1-0, we felt we had a real chance.”
Once again, O’Neill felt that confidence played an important part in the outcome of the game.
He has spoken before about the need for Sunderland’s players to have greater confidence in themselves. But, on this occasion, he was analysing Spurs’ players, who he felt were struggling to impose themselves on Sunderland in the opening hour.
“When you lose a few games, like Sunderland have done this year, then confidence even in good players gets eroded,” he said.
“But there was a case in point with Spurs themselves against us where you could see that even a team like them were starting to have their self-belief affected.
“They had been expected to win the game, but it wasn’t happening for them, and you could see they were beginning to lose a little confidence – until they scored.
“Today was a great result for Spurs because you have to win tricky games like this if you hope to win titles.
“As for us, we have a battle on our hands – we don’t even have a point per game.
“But what I was pleased with, against a very good Spurs side, was that I didn’t think any player downed tools.
“No-one gave up.
“That’s the first thing you need.
“But I will be looking in the games ahead at getting us scoring more goals. Getting the ball into the box more quickly and flooding the area with bodies.
“We need to get goals and it isn’t happening at the moment.”