O'Neill: Our confidence is back

Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill believes despite Saturday's defeat to Tottenham, his side can go into the new year with renewed confidence.

The Black Cats had eased clear of the relegation zone with a run of three wins in four league outings culminating in the sensational Boxing Day defeat of champions Manchester City.

They were denied a chance to extend that sequence by a concerted Spurs fightback, although they will approach the end of 2012 with a measure of confidence restored.

Manager Martin O'Neill said: "The mood has always been pretty upbeat, but of course winning football matches, as we have been doing just recently, has given the boys an extra boost of confidence, that was the big thing.

"That said, you still have to win the games and Southampton away was a big win for us, following it up here on Boxing Day was great, so the spirit is - well as I said, it has never been broken, but it is in pretty good order."

Sunderland's spirit was sky high when, having survived a glaring miss from just two yards by Emmanuel Adebayor, they took the lead five minutes before the break.

Sebastian Larsson's free-kick caused all kinds of problems for the Spurs defence and although keeper Hugo Lloris managed to beat away Fletcher's shot, defender John O'Shea was on hand to sweep home his first goal for the club.

However, the game changed within six minutes of the restart as the visitors flexed their muscles in impressive style.

Black Cats defender Carlos Cuellar could only help Kyle Walker's 48th-minute corner into his own net and when Aaron Lennon received the benefit of a fortunate ricochet three minutes later, he raced away to beat keeper Simon Mignolet.

But for Mignolet, who produced a stunning save on the hour to deny Jermain Defoe from impossibly close range, Tottenham would have eased over the finishing line long before the final whistle.

However, while Sunderland battled manfully, if fruitlessly, for a way back into the game, the most notable incident as time ran down was Gareth Bale's 81st-minute booking for diving under Craig Gardner's challenge, one which later prompted impassioned pleas from both the player and his manager, Andre Villas-Boas, for clemency.

Spurs climbed into third place on Saturday evening as a result of their second successive away victory, and while Villas-Boas knows there are tough tests to come, he left Wearside happy with his lot.

He said: "We can't live off unrealistic situations, we just have to keep on gathering the most amount of points we can.

"Our comfort comes from the fact that we have gone to Old Trafford, to Goodison, to the Emirates and to the Etihad already, and we have difficult trips to Stamford Bridge and Anfield.

"But we have cleared a couple of stadiums where normally our opponents can lose points, and our satisfaction comes from that, and from a festive period where we had two away fixtures and we won both of them, and from a December that apart from the Everton game, was extremely good for us."