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Cheesy grin: Andre Villas-Boas.
The main pre-match headlines concerned Tottenham boss Andre Villas-Boas making changes to his team—most notably in defence.
Kyle Naughton's selection in place of the injured Jan Vertonghen at left-back had been expected. Not anticipated was Vlad Chiriches missing out through injury.
The Romanian's absence prompted a defensive reshuffle. He was replaced by Etienne Capoue, with Michael Dawson moved to left centre-back (interestingly, Younes Kaboul was not selected altogether, with no reason forthcoming).
Though not heavily tested by an occasionally threatening but largely uninspired Sunderland attack, the new combination worked well.
Dawson transitioned comfortably to a less familiar side. Winning several aerial battles late on, he was crucially alert to clear when a Hugo Lloris save almost fell to nearby Fabio Borini.
After the captain's slip-up cost Spurs a goal versus Fulham midweek, more of the team's play from the back came through Capoue and Mousa Dembele. Left to concentrate on defensive duties, Dawson had his best game in weeks.
Capoue's distribution from the Spurs half was tidy and succinct. Though not as tested individually as his central defensive partner, he was solid when needed and made a particularly well-read interception shortly after half-time.
Naughton might have had a tougher evening's work if faced with Adam Johnson rather than Sebastian Larsson. Though Ondrej Celustka's runs forward occasionally put him under pressure, the left-back was otherwise as reliable as he has been playing on his weaker side.
He offered decent support going forward. As Sunderland searched for an equaliser in the second half, Naughton was commendably keen to make a challenge, dispossessing Jack Colback with a fine tackle having come in from the left. With four minutes remaining of normal time, he cleared with a big header that led to Andros Townsend winning a free-kick.
On the opposite side, Kyle Walker was in fine form too, displaying an eagerness at both ends that was also present in good displays versus Manchester United and Fulham.
Spurs have not kept a clean sheet since a 0-0 draw with Everton early in November. After conceding six to Manchester City a few weeks ago, though, there has been a marked improvement in the back four's collective display.
With good work by Capoue and Naughton done here, Villas-Boas will be grateful to know he has options beyond those he has used recently.