Bale crowns 200th Spurs appearance with dramatic winner against Southampton
17:23 04 May 2013
PA Wire/Press Association Images
Premier League: Tottenham 1 Southampton 0
Gareth Bale scored a crucial 85th-minute winner against his former club Southampton on his 200th appearance for Tottenham to keep their top-four dream alive.
The Lilywhites had struggled to present a threat to Artur Boruc’s goal for most of the game and were fortunate to be on level terms at half-time after surviving two big scares.
It looked like the hosts were going to drop another two important points against a bottom-half team – having been held to a 2-2 draw at Wigan last weekend – but Bale’s late heroics secured a vital victory.
Spurs will now wait to see how Arsenal fare against QPR in today’s late kick-off, and they will be interested observers when Chelsea face Manchester United tomorrow as Andre Villas-Boas and his players prepare for Wednesday’s pivotal trip to take on the Blues at Stamford Bridge.
Villas-Boas made two changes to his Spurs side, with Aaron Lennon and Benoit Assou-Ekotto returning to the starting line-up, while Mousa Dembele was fit enough to start again, despite limping off in the previous game at Wigan.
The kick-off was delayed by 30 minutes due to traffic congestion on the M25 and, when the game eventually kicked off, Southampton proved to be more than a match for the Lilywhites.
Jermain Defoe shot into the side netting in the first five minutes but the Saints went on to dominate - and they should have taken the lead in the 11th minute when Nathan Clyne sprung the offside trap, running clean through onto a bouncing ball but firing inches wide of the far post.
Spurs were struggling to create similar opportunities at the other end, with Bale largely uninvolved in his central role behind the striker, and Defoe wanted more time on the ball than he was being given by the visitors’ defenders.
Tom Huddlestone was showing off his array of passes in the centre of the midfield, most notably with a glorious, raking 40-yard ball out to Assou-Ekotto on the left flank.
However, Southampton goalkeeper Boruc was being given little to do, and Villas-Boas was then forced into an early substitution as Dembele made an early exit for the second game in succession.
Spurs were fortunate not to concede again moments later as Rickie Lambert sent a free kick towards the bottom corner, but Hugo Lloris got down sharply to make a fine save and tip the ball onto the post.
Villas-Boas responded to a concerning situation with a tactical change, moving the well-shackled Bale to the left of midfield and switching Clint Dempsey inside into the No10 role.
Tottenham ended the half with three set pieces as Huddlestone whipped a free kick and two corners into the box, but Bale could only head the ball over the bar as the first period ended all square.
The home side continued to labour after the interval and Villas-Boas made his second change on the hour-mark, replacing Lennon with Emmanuel Adebayor.
The Togo international joined Defoe up front, with Dempsey moving to the right in a simple 4-4-2 formation, and the game began to open up as Spurs committed more players forward in search of a winner.
Huddlestone fed the ball in to Adebayor, who cushioned the ball into the path Dempsey, but the American put his effort over the bar.
Tottenham had two penalty appeals turned down in quick succession as Boruc flapped at Huddlestone’s corner and Jan Vertonghen’s shot hit Clyne on the top of the arm, and Bale then went down in the box shouting for a spot-kick.
Neither penalty was given but it didn’t matter because with five minutes left Bale picked the ball up on the right flank, drove inside into a central position and fired a low effort into the bottom left corner to secure all three points.
Tottenham: Lloris, Walker, Dawson, Vertonghen, Assou-Ekotto, Lennon (Adebayor 59), Huddlestone, Dembele (Holtby 35), Dempsey (Sigurdsson 71), Bale, Defoe