IN the very same room in which Paolo Di Canio had ranted last May about the poverty of the Sunderland side he had inherited, and boasted how he would transform it over the course of a single summer, a crestfallen Gus Poyet now sat.
Di Canio claimed on that final day of the 2012/13 campaign that he had created “a miracle” in keeping Sunderland up and revealed, too, that he would utterly overhaul the squad in the close season.
Revolution not evolution.
But after that most disastrous of revamps – overseen by director of football Roberto De Fanti and head coach Di Canio – both Italians have been sacked and the ruination of the the club the two have engineered is all but complete.
Di Canio’s successor, Poyet, has fought the good fight and when Sunderland last won a league game – an inspiring 3-0 win over Newcastle United on February 1 which hoisted the Black Cats into 14th place in the league – it seemed for a brief moment as though he might achieve it.
But last night, in the claustrophobic confines of Spurs’ Press Room – where Di Canio bragged and postured last time Sunderland came to town – the Uruguayan all but admitted the game was up.
He has tried everything in recent weeks to spark life back into a side which has fallen apart alarming and that has meant increasingly experimental selections and formation.
Last night proved no exception.
Di Canio and De Fanti’s two big summer signings were noticeable by their absence.
USA international striker Jozy Altidore was left at home and played for Kevin Ball’s Under-21 side, while Italian international Emanuele Giaccherini was not involved for the senior or the junior side.
And Poyet showed no fears about tackling other sacred cows either – skipper John O’Shea was surprisingly dropped to the bench in favour of fellow veteran Carlos Cuellar, making his first start since November.
On top of that, Fabio Borini was allowed to reprise his Wembley role by starting up front, while in-form Adam Johnson was recalled to the starting line-up to play behind him in a 5-3-1-1 formation.
These were big calls all but desperate times call for desperate measures.
Spurs, for their part, welcomed back leading scorer Emmanuel Adebayor from a gashed foot into a very attack-minded team which included former Sunderland loan signing Danny Rose.
Spurs boss Tim Sherwood, desperate for a home win to keep faint Champions League qualification hopes alive, was signalling he was going to go for it against one of the most porous and reshuffled defences in the Premier League.
They made some early inroads.
Aaron Lennon was played in by Nacer Chadli down the right flank just three minutes into the game and Marcos Alonso had to be at his brightest when the Spurs man cut into the box.
Five minutes later, Alonso produced an even better touch to stop Lennon when the winger looked favourite to take the ball past him in the box.
In between, a Christian Eriksen ball in from the right had to be tipped over his bar by Vito Mannone.
But Sunderland’s experimental defence held firm and they had a chance to take the lead – Johnson pumping in a diagonal free-kick from the right and the unmarked Wes Brown heading back across goal and wide from the far post in the 13th minute.
Unlucky for them – these are the chances Sunderland have squandered to their cost in recent weeks.
But four minutes later they were ahead after Borini pressurised Hugo Lloris from a throw-in on the left and then Johnson closed down Kyle Naughton, who fatally crossed the ball in front of his own 18-yard box.
Lurking there unmarked was Lee Cattermole, 25 yards out and looking at a virtually unguarded goal.
Even at that stage, the smart money would have been on the midfielder, who had not scored in four years on Wearside, failing to convert.
Instead, he could not have produced a better finish – driving a low right-foot shot into the bottom left-hand corner of Lloris’s goal as the French keeper scrambled desperately back to reach it.
The goal sparked the game into life and Spurs might have equalised within seconds when Chadli’s piledriver from range was blocked to the feet of striker Harry Kane, whose powerful shot from eight yards was brilliantly saved by Mannone.
Spurs continued to press and Alonso was booked as he tried to stem the tide. Naughton was narrowly wide with one effort, then Adebayor wafted a wonderfully curled shot inches over the bar from just outside the box.
But, in the 25th minute, Sunderland produced a move as sweet and free-flowing as anything constructed by their opponents and it ended with Cattermole teeing up Borini, who forced an instinctive block from Lloris.
A goal then might have made all the difference, but, within three minutes, Spurs got back on level terms and regained the initiative.
it was somewhat ironic that, with so many spectacular efforts on goal, before and after, the equaliser should come from such a simple route as it did.
The troublesome Eriksen put in a ball from the left – across the six-yard box and behind the defence – and Brown, stretching every sinew at the far post, could not reach it.
The ball rolled up Adebayor’s shin from five yards out and beyond Mannone for the striker’s 12th goal of the season. Replays suggested the ball went in off his hand.
Sunderland were unbowed, but their goal lived dangerously in the minutes that followed – Kane and Paulinho having shots blocked, while Rose curled a spectacular effort from the left wing inches over.
The game became more ragged as it turned towards half-time on the rain-sodden pitch, with Poyet incensed that a bad challenge by Vlad Chiriches on Borini went unpunished seconds before Cattermole’s foul of Kane brought an immediate yellow.
That offered Eriksen his second free-kick in five minutes from an inviting position, but once again the ex-Ajax man was unable to make anything of it and Sunderland reached half-time level and very much in the game.
The visitors started the second half confidently, with Johnson being allowed to turn and shoot wide of the target from range in the 48th minute.
Spurs had shouts for a penalty four minutes later, when Kane went down under pressure in the box, but replays suggested the striker was already going down as he was challenged.
There was no need to try conning the referee with Spurs so fluent in attack and, in the 57th minute, Bardsley, not for the first time, was called upon to make a superb last-ditch block, this time to deny Eriksen.
It was Eriksen, though, who was to prove the architect of Spurs’ crucial second goal a couple of minutes later, curling an inswinging ball in from the left which again eluded Brown – Kane arriving just behind the Sunderland defender to stab the ball into goal from inside the six-yard box.
Kane and Brown were involved in a sickening but accidental clash of heads a couple of minute later, but both returned to the field of play – Kane with heavy bandaging, Brown shrugging off the setback of an enormous black eye.
In the 66th minute, Borini held off his marker well to fire in a shot which Lloris saved low to his left – proof that Sunderland were not out of this game yet, even though Spurs retained the greater momentum.
Poyet went for it as the game approached the last quarter-of-an-hour, switching to a 4-4-2 formation with Nacho Scocco and Craig Gardner replacing Cattermole and Cuellar.
Sunderland gained almost immediate dividends when Scocco hit the side netting with a snapshot from range.
Johnson won a free-kick from Rose but then wasted it, over-hitting his ball into the box.
And then Spurs hit Sunderland with the sucker-punch in the 78th minute when they advanced swiftly upfield, the ball was played across to Eriksen in space directly in front of goal, and his low shot took the slightest of deflections off the heel of Bardsley’s boot, but enough to divert it just past Mannone, diving to his left.
It was a heartbreaking moment and it could have got worse immediately – both Kane and then Adebayor having excellent chances to score after piercing the Sunderland rearguard in the minutes that followed – but Mannone proved equal to them.
Just as Sunderland were contemplating a disappointing defeat though, it became an embarrassing one, with two goals conceded in the last five minutes.
Mannone had been excellent all night, but after some poor defending in front of him, he allowed a hopeful Kane shot to squirm under his body and Adebayor raced in to tuck home from close range in the 87th minute.
The striker was a long way offside, but the goal stood.
And then, on the stroke of full-time, Spurs substitute Gylfi Sigurdsson capitalised on more poor defending, after a weak punch from Mannone sparked a goal-mouth scramble, with the Icelandic midfielder producing the coolest of finishes to lash a rising shot home from close range, complete an evening of misery for Wearside supporters who supported their team heroically throughout.
Sunderland had suffered their biggest defeat of the season – just another statistic among an avalanche of statistics under which this squad is sadly, and potentially shamefully, collapsing into the Championship.
Poyet and his players are in the firing line right now – and they are especially culpable for the failure of these last few weeks – but those with longer memories know that the seeds of this destruction go back far further.
On the final day of last season, De Fanti stood just outside the entrance to White Hart Lane in the warm May sunlight, chatting excitedly with chairman Ellis Short while Di Canio strutted his stuff within.
All their grandiose ambition has come to nothing, but they have escaped with handsome rewards indeed for their stays at Sunderland and only bruised pride to bitch about.
It has been left to others to pick up the pieces.
It has been left to Sunderland to pay the price.