Tottenham’s Gareth Bale again proved his indispensability to a team desperate to secure Champions League football next season.
Andre Villas-Boas’ men struggled and toiled against a Manchester City side that came racing out of the blocks but ultimately, as with much of their season, flattered to deceive.
As the first half wore on, two things became increasingly obvious; the Tottenham faithful at White Hart Lane were beginning to lose their faith in their team’s chances at finishing in the top four, while Manchester City were at last making a mockery of the enormous point gap between themselves and Manchester United who, contrary to popular belief, were not yet the league champions.
But all that turned deep into the second half when AVB, enjoying a season of English redemption at Spurs, threw on Lewis Holtby, Tom Huddlestone and Jermain Defoe. Each had an impact on a game that seemed destined to fizzle out after an explosive first few minutes.
Holtby harried and harassed, unsettling a complacent City midfield, while Huddlestone’s vision came to the fore with a series of long, raking passes that exposed their opponents’ reluctance to chase back into the channels and do the dirty work in defending their lead. It was Jermaine Defoe, however, who gave City most cause for concern when he replaced an Emmanuel Adebayor who frustratingly couldn’t shake himself from his season-long torpor against his former employers.
AVB’s key tactical change, however, occurred when he shifted a player that was on the pitch from the start, and it was that man, Gareth Bale, who again proved the difference for his side.
Originally playing a ‘free’ role behind Adebayor, Bale found himself by-passed in a first half that saw City soar and Spurs shrink. Reflective of a man who has just returned from injury, it seemed as though Superman couldn’t save the day, after all.
But a mixture of carelessness and hubris from City in the second half, coupled with a shift of Bale by AVB to the right wing, resulted in the shape of the match changing irrevocably.
First, Bale played a pass with the outside of his foot across the face of goal that was both perfectly weighted and timed yet was bizarrely assessed to be insufficient of an interceptive effort by City’s defence and goalkeeper. The otherwise-ineffective Clint Dempsey profited from a characteristic run into the six yard box for Spurs’ equaliser.
Minutes later, Defoe arrowed a shot into Hart’s far corner after cutting back inside of Kompany who, while magnificent in the first half, allowed the Tottenham forward space for a sight of goal on his favoured right foot.
White Hart Lane was rocking, and the quickness with which Tottenham played the ball deep into a labouring and disorganised Manchester City defensive third suggested that the afternoon wasn’t quite over.
It wasn’t.Bale latched onto a through-ball seized in a midfield tussle to first cut into the penalty box and nullify his marker before lifting the ball over a despairing Joe Hart. Having led for 70 minutes and looked good for at least 45 of those, City had conspired to yet again through it away this season.
The plaudits must sit with two men, however; Andre Villas-Boas, who not just out-thought his more illustrious counterpart in the dugout, but who has also brought his squad of players together into one of the most united teams in the Premier League, and Gareth Bale, whose athleticism, ability and attitude stood out as clear as the London blue sky.
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