The Republic of Ireland international's own goal ultimately proved to be the difference after Paulinho had earlier cancelled out Adam Johnson's opener
The hosts took the lead late in the first half when Adam Johnson capitalised on a Hugo Lloris error following an Ondrej Celustka cross.
|VIEW FROM THE STADIUM OF LIGHT
|By Harry Slavin
When you’re down at the wrong end of the table it can often feel as if nothing goes your way, and Gus Poyet will have genuine grievances as they slumped to back-to-back home defeats.
Tottenham should have had the game wrapped up as they missed a host of chances to settle the match, but they were lucky to get away with three points as an own goal and the referee’s inability to spot a blatant handball proved the undoing of the Black Cats.
Tottenham have now accrued seven points from a possible nine since their hammering at Manchester City and look on the road to recovery. For Sunderland, their route to safety is looking more difficult as they struggle to build a solid base at the Stadium of Light.
Jermain Defoe was also twice denied by the woodwork as Tottenham went in search of a third.
Defeat for Sunderland - a result that leaves them bottom of the Premier League and without a win in four - will be especially difficult to stomach as a Phil Bardsley own goal handed Chelsea a 4-3 win at the same ground on Wednesday.
While Gus Poyet's men face a lengthy battle to beat the drop, his former club Tottenham are sixth.
Sunderland made four changes to the side that lost to Chelsea on Wednesday, with Adam Johnson, Steven Fletcher, Sebastian Larsson and Celustka coming in for Andrea Dossena, Craig Gardner, Emanuele Giaccherini and Fabio Borini.
Andre Villas-Boas also made a quartet of alterations from Tottenham's 2-1 midweek victory at Fulham, bringing Kyle Naughton, Mousa Dembele, Lewis Holtby and Nacer Chadli in for Erik Lamela, Sandro and injured duo Jan Vertonghen and Vlad Chiriches.
After a quiet opening 10 minutes, Paulinho had the first meaningful opportunity of the match, sending a dipping effort from distance narrowly over the crossbar.
But it was the hosts who took the lead in the 37th minute, as goalkeeper Lloris made a dreadful attempt to deal with a Celustka cross, palming the ball to the feet of Johnson, who gratefully smashed it into the back of the net for his first goal of the season.
Tottenham, though, were level six minutes later, Paulinho prodding home from close range after Chadli had nodded the ball down from a Holtby free-kick.
Lloris had to be alert moments later as Celustka fired a thunderous effort straight at the goalkeeper from outside the Spurs penalty area.
Tottenham were ahead five minutes into the second period as Dembele attempted to pull the ball across the face of goal, but got lucky as it deflected into the goal off O'Shea.
The Irishman's own goal came in the same minute as he scored at the right end against Chelsea in midweek.
Defoe headed against the post from an Aaron Lennon cross seven minutes later as the men from North London found their stride. He went close again in 66th minute, but dragged his effort narrowly wide of the left-hand post.
Sunderland had appeals for a penalty turned down in the 75th minute as substitute Sandro handled in the penalty area shortly after being introduced. Replays suggested Poyet's men had every reason to feel hard done by.
Defoe hit the post once again 11 minutes from time before Borini squandered a chance to salvage a draw as the Black Cats applied the pressure in the closing stages.