A goal from Paulinho and an own goal from John O'Shea sealed an impressive win after Adam Johnson fired the home side into the lead.
Andre made a number of changes - some enforced - as the busy December continued. Kyle Naughton and Etienne Capoue were drafted into the back line to replace the injured Jan Vertonghen and Vlad Chiriches, while Sandro started on the bench with his place taken by midweek goalscorer Lewis Holtby. Mousa Dembele returned to the side and was joined by Nacer Chadli, while Erik Lamela reverted to the bench.
The opening exchanges were fairly nip and tuck, with openings at a premium as the two teams attempted to work each other out. Paulinho attempted a speculative long-range effort on 13 minutes but it was a quiet start for the goalkeepers.
Steven Fletcher broke away a few minutes later and got a shot away that was dragged wide. Holtby then shot in at Vito Mannone but his effort was fielded by the keeper with the ball actually heading wide.
Paulinho was next to trouble the Sunderland rearguard after being played in by Lennon and it took a superb stop from Wes Brown to divert the Brazilian. Defoe later shot wide from the edge of the area, not really making a true connection.
A Chadli header from a Kyle Walker corner was reacted to well by Mannone, but it was Defoe who was looking the most threatening and most likely to make the breakthrough.
The deadlock was broken moments later on 37 minutes, but not in the way we wanted. A deep cross from the right by Ondrei Celustka was chased and palmed away by Hugh Lloris, but the ball fell kindly for Adam Johnson, who returned it with interest into the top corner of the net.
The lead thankfully did not last long as on 43 minutes a Walker free-kick was headed back into the danger zone by Chadli and Paulinho was in place to prod past Mannone.
Chadli came close with another header before the whistle and it finished all square at the break.
The lead was grabbed on 49 minutes following a superb run in from the left by Dembele, who barged into the area and dispatched the ball, which then flew past Manone via a defection off John O'Shea.
Holtby was denied a third by a brilliant interception from Johnson after Chadli burst clear and delivered a low centre. Walker was then magnificent in setting up Holtby in front of goal and it took a brave block from Brown to prevent what would have been an almost certain goal.
Aaron Lennon planted a cross onto the head of Defoe, who was so unlucky in hitting the post with his effort.
Confidence was high and Dembele was making the team tick from the centre, orchestrating proceedings with aplomb.
Defoe should have sealed it on 66 minutes when Holtby dissected the home defence and left him free in the area, but his effort rolled wide from in front of goal.
Sandro was introduced in place of Dembele and the Brazilian was perhaps lucky not to concede a penalty when the ball struck his arm.
Sunderland took the initiative as the game entered the final 15 minutes with Gus Poyet using his full quota of substitutions.
Andre then brought on Andros Townsend for Holtby and the winger provided a cross almost straight away from which Defoe again struck a post.
Lloris was then called into action at the other end after a run of Seb Larsson crosses; Fabio Borini struck and the goalkeeper grabbed by his feet. At the other end Townsend dispatched another measured cross that was this time met by the head of Paulinho, but he could not find the right direction.
Glyfi Sigurdsson was next off the bench to take over from Chadli as Sunderland made a late rally. A combination of Lloris and Dawson denied Fletcher a shooting opportunity from close range before five minutes of stoppage time was signalled.
The only question was how we didn't find another goal as Mannone tipped over from Townsend and then Lennon's reverse pass freed Paulinho who unselfishly looked for Defoe, the ball just evading him.
Sunderland didn't threaten again and it was job done.
Spurs (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Walker, Capoue, Dawson, Naughton; Dembele (Sandro, 73), Paulinho; Lennon, Holtby (Townsend, 78), Chadli (Sigurdsson, 84); Defoe. Subs not used: Friedel, Fryers, Lamela, Soldado.
Sunderland: Mannone; Celustka (Giaccherini, 77), Brown, O'Shea, Bardsley; Larsson, Yueng, Colback (Cattermole, 67); Johnson (Borini, 67), Fletcher, Altidore. Subs not used: Pickford, Dossena, Gardner, Diakite.
Yellow cards: Sunderland - Celustka, Altidore.
Goals: Sunderland - Johnson (37). Spurs - Paulinho (43), O'Shea own goal (49).
Referee: Mr L Mason.