London, Dec 12: Tottenham's assault on the Premier League title was stopped in its tracks on Sunday, a 2-1 loss at Stoke ending an 11-match unbeaten run.
Former Tottenham winger Matthew Etherington did the damage by grabbing two first-half goals at the Britannia Stadium to consign Harry Redknapp's in-form team to a first defeat since Aug. 28.
Emmanuel Adebayor pulled a goal back from the penalty spot in the 62nd minute but Spurs couldn't complete the comeback, with defender Younes Kaboul's late red card compounding their misery.
In Sunday's other game, Sunderland celebrated Martin O'Neill's first match in charge by rallying to beat Blackburn 2-1, with Sebastian Larsson scoring an injury-time winner from a free kick to lift the team out of the relegation zone.
Tottenham remained seven points behind Manchester City, which visits Chelsea on Monday, and will rue a number of poor decisions from the officials as its bid for a seventh straight victory came up short.
Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross got away with using his right arm to keep out Kaboul's goalbound shot in the 74th while Adebayor had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside moments later.
“We certainly deserved to get something from the game,” Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp said. “When you see the replays, how the referee gave Adebayor offside and how he didn't see the handball, I don't know.”
Etherington opened the scoring in the 13th minute after good work by another former Tottenham player, Peter Crouch, and then stabbed in a finish from close range two minutes before halftime to extend the lead.
Bullied in the first half, Spurs fought back well but Stoke managed to hold on despite Adebayor scoring his eighth goal of the season after Luka Modric was tripped by Glenn Whelan.
“They are a top-class side and we were under the cosh,” said Crouch, whose side moved up two places to eighth. “Everyone was working as hard as they could and they weren't going to take that result away from us.”
O'Neill has been quick to work his magic at Sunderland, starting his reign by guiding the team to only its third victory of the season after 16 months away from the dugout.
The 59-year-old Northern Irishman, who was given a rapturous welcome by the home fans, was hired by American owner Ellis Short to bring some energy and drive into a team that appeared to be heading toward a season of struggle under former manager Steve Bruce.
Sunderland never gave up after starting sluggishly and was rewarded with late goals by David Vaughan and set-piece specialist Larsson to lift the team two places to 16th.
“He's come in with a lot of energy and enthusiasm and told us he believes in us,” Larsson said of O'Neill. “We've had a tough time but this will do us the world of good.”
Simon Vukcevic scored in one of Blackburn's rare forays forward, heading the ball into an unguarded net from six yards in the 17th after Sunderland goalkeeper Kieren Westwood parried out a deflected shot by Christopher Samba.
Vaughan capped a period of domination from Sunderland by latching onto a weak clearance with a piledriver from 25 yards (meters) in the 84th, before Larsson justified his tag as one of the league's best free-kick takers by curling a shot over the defensive wall and into the net at the near post.
“It was surreal, really surreal,” O'Neill said. “Just to get three points on the board is immense.
“We have a million miles to go, but in terms of restoration of confidence, it was great.”
Blackburn's ninth defeat of the season left the team second from bottom—a point above northwest neighbor Bolton, which lost 2-1 at home to Aston Villa on Saturday.