VICTORIES over Reading and Southampton were the most important of Sunderland’s season.
In terms of separating themselves from the newly-promoted duo and installing some confidence in Sunderland’s increasingly ailing players, they were pivotal moments.
But Boxing Day’s win over Manchester City held equal magnitude, albeit for a slightly different reason.
Points-wise, it was of course a huge boost and the buffer with the relegation zone now looks healthy enough for Sunderland to begin to banish worries over sinking into the bottom three.
But the victory held particular resonance for supporters.
While home wins against Wigan and Reading have undoubtedly produced some cheer on the terraces, the Stadium of Light had been waiting since March for a victory over one of the big boys to send everyone potty.
Now, suddenly, that priceless buzz is back.
Now fans can head into tomorrow’s encounter with palpable excitement – arguably for the first time since the double capture of Adam Johnson and Steven Fletcher created such anticipation prior to August’s postponed clash against Reading.
What’s more, Sunderland can again revel with the nothing-to-lose mentality in the lunchtime encounter against fourth-placed Spurs.
The three points against City has arguably already exceeded the expected haul from three daunting games after the trip to St Mary’s.
And with Spurs in free-scoring form after inflicting more misery on Aston Villa’s beleaguered defence, national expectations will be that the visitors further boost their Champions League hopes.
But Sunderland are a different animal to even a fortnight ago.
Confidence has been transformed and the rediscovered winning habit will erase any effects of fatigue from a draining festive schedule.
The absence of the ineligible Danny Rose is a significant one though.
A weekend off will undoubtedly prove beneficial to Rose, who has been gritting his teeth through the ankle injury he sustained against Reading.
But Rose continues to be the integral performer for the Black Cats and the loss of his pace, drive and sheer determination leaves Martin O’Neill with a significant void to fill.
Jack Colback and Phil Bardsley are the principle two contenders to replace Rose at left-back, although Matt Kilgallon could be an outside bet if John O’Shea shakes off illness to return to the starting line-up, as expected.
Colback was colossal in central midfield against Yaya Toure on Boxing Day and it will be a similarly tall ordeal against Sandro and Moussa Dembele, or even against Scott Parker if the fit-again England man is handed his first start of the season.
If O’Neill takes Colback out of the engine room, he is left with a headache over how to plug the gap and he will be wary of introducing David Vaughan and David Meyler, who has now been recalled from Hull City.
He could of course introduce Bardsley at right-back and move Craig Gardner into midfield, but that prompts yet another change to the back four.
And with Bardsley still short on match-fitness, putting him up against Gareth Bale is a tall order.
The likeliest scenario looks to be installing Bardsley as a straight replacement for Rose and ensuring James McClean provides a helping hand to combating the pace of Aaron Lennon.
That will be equally applicable to Adam Johnson on the opposite side in protecting Gardner.
But Sunderland’s widemen had no qualms over tracking back against City and the determination to shut out Andre Villas-Boas’ side will be equally applicable tomorrow.
Sunderland have already been the big winners of the festive programme though and anything else tomorrow will only further boost the sense of resurgence around the Stadium of Light.