Matthew Etherington's first half double caused his former side to lose ground on the league leaders [GALLO/GETTY]

Tottenham Hotspur lost ground on the English Premier League leaders when they were beaten 2-1 in a pulsating game at Stoke City.

Martin O'Neill's reign as Sunderland manager began with a last-gasp win on Sunday.

Seb Larsson's stoppage-time free kick gave Sunderland a 2-1 victory over Blackburn Rovers and Stoke winger Matthew Etherington scored twice to sink 10-man Spurs at the Britannia Stadium.

Double trouble

Spurs, who had won six league games in a row and not lost one since August, fell behind in the 13th minute when striker Peter Crouch set up fellow former Tottenham player Etherington for a powerful finish.

Crouch had appeared to handle the ball in the build-up but Spurs could have nothing to complain about when Jon Walters flicked on Ryan Shotton's long throw and Etherington scooped in at the far post two minutes before the break.

The visitors struck back in the 62nd minute when Stoke midfielder Glenn Whelan tripped Luka Modric in the area and Emmanuel Adebayor converted the penalty, sending goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen the wrong way.

The lively Modric could have levelled with a long-range shot that Sorensen tipped behind and Adebayor had the ball in the net in the 75th minute but was ruled offside when television replays showed he had not been.

Spurs continued to attack relentlessly but their momentum was interrupted eight minutes from time when Younes Kaboul was sent off for a second yellow card following a foul on Walters.

Stoke had chances to extend their lead, Ryan Shawcross twice going close with powerful headers, and kept possession well to secure the three points.

The result kept Tottenham in third place, five points behind Manchester United with a game in hand. Leaders Manchester City, who are two points clear, travel to fifth-placed Chelsea on Monday. Stoke moved up to eighth.

O'Neill debut

Results & fixtures

Saturday December 10

Arsenal 1-0 Everton
Bolton 1-2 Aston Villa
Liverpool 1-0 QPR
Man Utd 4-1 Wolves
Norwich 4-2 Newcastle
Swansea 2-0 Fulham
West Brom 1-2 Wigan

Sunday December 11

Sunderland 2-1 Blackburn
Stoke 2-1 Tottenham

Monday December 12

Chelsea v Man City

The rousing reception given to O'Neill at the Stadium of Light was temporarily forgotten when Blackburn went in front in the 17th minute with a Simon Vukcevic header.

The hosts, who enjoyed much of the possession against their defensive visitors, were denied by superb saves from Blackburn goalkeeper Paul Robinson before David Vaughan's 84th-minute equaliser from 25 metres out started the late turnaround.

Two minutes into stoppage time, Sunderland were awarded a free kick 20 metres out and Larsson stepped up to curl in a stunning effort that sent the home fans into noisy celebrations as O'Neill jumped up and down on the touchline.

"We have got some points on the board, which is vital for our confidence and vital for the crowd," O'Neill told Sky Sports.

"For periods I suppose, it was a microcosm of our season. I think the players have played well enough in games but not been able to score a goal, conceded maybe a poorish goal and then succumbed.

"I thought they were terrific today, I thought they played brilliantly, they kept at it as well which is important."

The win lifted Sunderland out of the relegation zone and up to 16th place with 14 points from 15 games. Blackburn remain in trouble, second from bottom with 10 points, two behind Wigan Athletic and one above Bolton Wanderers.

"We are in the wars but I think we were good for a point today," said Blackburn's under-fire manager Steve Kean, whose miserable day ended on an even worse note when Jason Lowe was taken off on a stretcher in stoppage time with a head injury.

Source: Reuters