Tottenham Hotspur went 86 minutes without a shot on goal against Southampton, but when former Saint Gareth Bale broke in from the right late at White Hart Lane, one look from near-30 yards out was all the Player of the Year needed to give Spurs a crucial three points. With his left-footed blast into the corner of Artur Buroc’s goal, Bale unbalanced a match that seemed destined to keep Spurs outside the top four. Instead, the 1-0 victory gave Tottenham a temporarily hold on fourth place.
When Arsenal scored early at Loftus Road (the day’s final game kicking off half an hour after White Hart Lane’s final whistle), it appeared Spurs’ advantage would be short-lived, but with a match-in-hand on the Gunners, Tottenham maintains control of their own destiny. Though they visit Stamford Bridge next week, they’re still in a win-and-in situation. Victories against Chelsea, Stoke City and Sunderland would guarantee Spurs’ return to Champions League.
On Saturday, Spurs looked anything but a Champions League club. Against a Southampton team that’s settling into mediocrity after an early spring rush, Tottenham couldn’t distinguish themselves, drawing on memories of early season struggles that saw Andre Villas-Boas’s side break down once they hit the final third. Had you not known better, you’d have thought today’s was a “tie will do just fine” scenario, though it wasn’t. With Arsenal at QPR later in the day, Spurs needed full points, even if a draw would have served Saints just fine.
Without that point, though, Saints sit in 14th place, only four points above the drop. With a three teams between them and 18th place Wigan, it’s unlikely Mauricio Pochettino’s team can be pulled down. But unable to take advantage of an off day from Spurs, Southampton gets to spend another week in doubt.
All of which is owed to Bale, a player whose every game forces you to ask where Spurs would be without him. Today, the answer would be adrift, with only his long-range strike keeping Spurs from losing the ability to dictate their own course. With goals in short supply between Jermaine Defoe, Emmanuel Adebayor, Clint Dempsey, and Aaron Lennon, Spurs’ chances rest exclusively on the laces of Gareth Bale.
Should they fail to snare a top-four spot, Tottenham may very well find out what it’s permanently like to live without Bale. Without Champions League, Bale may be enticed to move on, and if Tottenham’s end-of-season showing provides any hint to that future, it will be back to the drawing board once the Welsh international leaves North London.