Roman Pavlyuchenko's first Premier League goal of the season was enough to ensure Tottenham Hotspur beat Sunderland 1-0 at White Hart Lane here on Sunday to go third in the Premier League.
The Russian striker, who came on as a substitute for Aaron Lennon midway through the first half, scored just past the hour mark in a match Spurs won despite being without several attacking threats.
Spurs started the match without Jermain Defoe and Gareth Bale, missing because of a foot injury.
Bale's absence meant Luka Modric was pushed out wide and therefore limited the Croatian playmaker's impact.
But with Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson proclaiming on Sunday morning that Tottenham were the champions' main rivals for the Premier League title, Spurs' ability to grind out a win will not have gone unnoticed.
Tottenham's 11-game unbeaten run end against Stoke last week in unfortunate fashion.
But they haven't lost form at their White Hart Lane home since August 28, when Manchester City put five goals past them.
Sunderland had reacted instantly to Martin O'Neill's appointment as manager by beating Blackburn 2-1 in his first game in charge last week.
In the intervening days Nicklas Bendtner and Lee Cattermole were arrested for an alleged car-wrecking spree on Thursday, but the pair - coming back from injury and suspension respectively - were included on the bench.
Modric's influence was curtailed by the fact he was out on the left flank, but the first chance of the game came the minute he drifted into the middle.
He began a slick passing move that ended with Benoit Assou-Ekotto's shot on goal, which would have gone in had Rafael van der Vaart not got in the way.
Three minutes later van der Vaart put Sandro through, but the Brazilian screwed his shot wide of the far post.
Tottenham's creativity was further hampered when Lennon limped off with what looked like a hamstring strain in the 26th minute.
Kieran Richardson had two chances to open the scoring for Sunderland, but he was denied by Spurs goalkeeper Brad Friedel in the 28th minute and then over-ran Sebastian Larsson's cross from the right.
Then, seven minutes before half-time, Larsson's curling free kick drew Friedel into a superb diving save.
The chance of the first half fell to Pavlyuchenko.
Scott Parker crossed for the Russian, whose lack of league action - he has not started a Premier League match this season - was evident when he shot wide from barely three yards out.
Spurs started the second half brightly and van der Vaart came close to breaking the deadlock in the 55th minute but chipped his shot wide of the left upright.
But without Bale and Lennon, things weren't quite clicking - and runs from both Adebayor and van der Vaart to meet crosses from Modric and Kyle Walker respectively ended in disappointment.
But after an hour's play, van der Vaart dropped back - and it was no coincidence Spurs scored directly afterwards.
Wes Brown was at fault for giving the ball away, but Dutch midfielder van der Vaart's touch was key to Pavlyuchenko's first league goal of the season.
Six minutes later Modric missed an open goal, after Sunderland keeper Kieren Westwood had batted away Emmaneuel Adebayor's shot into the path of the Croatian, who kicked over the bar from eight yards out.
Bendtner, a half-time substitute for Connor Wickham, blew a chance to equalise two minutes from time when he headed wide from close range.