After a quiet start to the game, Sunderland took the lead when Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris misjudged Ondrej Celustka's cross and could only punch it to Adam Johnson, who gleefully slammed it into the top corner.
But their joy was short-lived and Tottenham were level within six minutes when the impressive Paulinho turned Nacer Chadli's header back across goal past keeper Vito Mannone.
The game was won five minutes after the restart when the luckless John O'Shea saw Moussa Dembele's driven cross clip off him and fly past Mannone, the fifth own goal the Black Cats have scored this season.
Spurs had more than enough opportunities to kill the game off, but could take none of them with Jermain Defoe twice hitting the post, and they might have been made to pay when Sebastian Larsson's 75th-minute corner appeared to be blocked by substitute Sandro's arm, although referee Lee Mason was unmoved.
Villas-Boas: "I haven't seen the incident, but everybody has confirmed that it's a penalty, so it's difficult for Gus to accept it because he is in need of points.
"But if we had finished our situations, that penalty wouldn't have made a difference, I think there was something there."
A downbeat Gus Poyet refused to use that decision as an excuse, however.
Gus Poyet: "I don't know what to say. I'm running out of words. I'm trying to be as honest as I can, but sometimes it doesn't matter.
"I don't like it, I don't enjoy it. I hate losing, hate it, and I don't remember losing too many games like that. It hurts, I can tell you that.
"The next four games are massive, absolutely massive. Me, I'll keep going. I'm not going to give up, I can promise you that.
"One, two, three - back luck. Five own goals? Too many. Me, I believe in coincidence once, twice. Five? No, I don't.
"Somehow always something happens. Who is going to be next? Do you know? Let me know so I don't play him."