Gareth Bale inspired Tottenham Hotspur to a 3–1 win over Manchester City with a goal and an assist to keep alive his club’s dream of qualifying for next season’s UEFA Champions League. American striker Clint Dempsey and Jermain Defoe also scored for Tottenham who trailed at half time to a Samir Nasri strike for the visitors on Sunday in North London.
Having missed the last two games through injury, it took Bale most of the first half to find his feet, but the Welsh wizard was back to his old self by the second period and contributed a man-of-the-match performance to put his club level with Chelsea on 61 points (prior to their match with Liverpool later in the day).
Of course Spurs did finish in fourth spot last season, but were denied entry into the world’s most prestigious and lucrative club tournament because Chelsea ended up winning the Champions League and was therefore guaranteed the chance to defend it. The meeting of these two sides at Stamford Bridge on May 9 promises to be an absolute blockbuster.
Andre Villas-Boas’ side has been out of sorts in recent weeks with just one solitary win in seven matches prior to today. That bad run has seen them crash out of the Europa Cup and slip from third to fifth in the Premier League. By contrast, City has been playing some of their best football of the campaign, winning at Old Trafford and eliminating Chelsea in the FA Cup semifinal.
David Silva’s hamstring wass still not right and Sergio Aguero was consigned to the bench with a similar, though somewhat less serious, problem. Roberto Mancini made five changes to the side that defeated Wigan 1–0 midweek, with Pablo Zabaleta, Matija Nastasic, Gael Clichy, and James Milner returning in place of Micah Richards, Joleon Lescott, Aleksandar Kolarov, and Javi Garcia. Edin Dzeko was chosen to spearhead the attack in the absence of Aguero.
Younes Kaboul, William Gallas, Sandro, and Aaron Lennon are all still unavailable for Tottenham, but talisman Bale was declared fit enough to start after sitting out a couple of matches.
Hugo Lloris returned to keep goal and Benoit Assou-Ekotto came in at left back. Defoe’s presence on the bench was a bonus, notwithstanding the fact that the England striker had not scored since Boxing Day. However he had netted seven times in 15 games against City, so there was some cause for optimism should he make it onto the pitch.
City Set the Pace
White Hart Lane looked a picture on a bright spring day in North London, but the partisan local supporters are close to the pitch in the old stadium and a full house can be intimidating for visiting teams.
However, the crowd was quickly silenced. City has won eight of their last nine games in all competitions and began in confident mood. After only five minutes, Carlos Tevez took three defenders out of the game down by the right corner flag before threading the ball through the eye of a needle for James Milner on the byline. The England man pulled the ball back for the unmarked Nasri, who swept home his second goal in as many weeks following a barren run.
City looked more incisive and creative in the final third than did their opponents and had a couple of chances to extend their lead before half time. Lloris made a good stop from Dzeko low down to his right, and Nasri poked a good opportunity wide.
With Vincent Kompany like the Rock of Gibraltar in the center of City’s defense, Spurs best moments came when Kyle Walker made forays down the right flank.
Walker himself had a half chance foiled by the advancing Joe Hart and Dempsey put a free header over the top on the stroke of half time.
Spurs Back in Business
Proceedings became rather scrappy at the start of the second period with neither side able to find much rhythm, but the game was transformed by some astute substitutions by Villas Boas.
Lewis Holtby and Tom Huddlestone were introduced on the hour, followed by Defoe 10 minutes later. Huddlestone’s raking passes, whether out to the flanks or through the middle, began to give City real problems and also brought Bale more into the game.
On 75 minutes, Bale received the ball on the right side of the area and slid a glorious ball across with the outside of his left foot which completely wrong-footed the City back line and found Dempsey coming in at the far post. The American made no mistake and put Spurs on level terms.
Four minutes later and Defoe was away down the left flank, cut inside, and whipped a ferocious right-footer past Hart. The ending of the longest goal drought of his career was a welcome sight indeed for Spurs supporters.
The capacity crowd at the Lane was literally raising the roof by this time, but their heroes were not done yet. On 82 minutes, Huddlestone again split the City defense with a deft ball for Bale to run onto, and the Spurs star man did the rest, impudently clipping the ball over the advancing Hart for a delightful finish.
City’s injury time miracle against QPR in last season’s final match will never be forgotten, but there was to be no such twist on this occasion. They did have one chance to pull one back when Tevez was tripped a couple of yards outside the box in the final minute of normal time, but substitute Kolarov’s free kick was just too high and a fraction wide.
Interviewed by Fox Sports after the game, Defoe declared the victory to be “unbelievable,” attributing it to his teammates “digging in” and refusing to be beaten.
For his part, Gareth Bale promised the supporters, “We are going to push to the end of the season to get into the top four.”
He also told the BBC, “The players want to play in the Champions League, and we showed that today.”
For his part, Mancini realized his team again threw away a terrific opportunity to keep the pressure on Manchester United. “I cannot believe we lost this game. We had it under control,” Mancini told the BBC.
Manchester United can now win the title by beating Aston Villa Monday night, but it is that battle for third and fourth places that is going down to the wire.
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