(Video) Gareth Bale’s wonder strike not enough for Tottenham to capture Champions League dreams

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Another game-winning strike from Gareth Bale wasn’t enough to save Tottenham from more Champions League heartache as Spurs missed out on a top-four berth to Arsenal.

The incredible strike once again came from outside the penalty area (his ninth this season – four more than any other player), giving Spurs a 1-0 win over Sunderland. Unfortunately for Andre Villas-Boas’ squad, the win meant nothing as Arsenal blanked Newcastle 1-0 to clinch the final spot in the Champions League. With the Gunners victory, Tottenham finishes in 5th place meaning they will be headed to the Europa League for the second consecutive season.

Things began well for Tottenham, who rose to the challenge among a vociferous atmosphere at White Hart Lane.  Emmanuel Adebayor’s 5th minute header was tipped wide by Sunderland netminder Simon Mignolet. The striker was at it again two minutes later when he received Bale’s throw-in in the box and went down under Carlos Cuellar’s challenge, only for referee Andre Marriner to signal play-on.

Controversy erupted in the 20th minute when Tom Huddlestone sent a 30 yard ball over the Sunderland defense for the streaking Bale. The Welshman left Cuellar and Seb Larsson in the dust and his lucious first touch put him prime position for a breakaway. With two quick dribbles, Bale was in the box. As the Spurs winger steadied himself to shoot, Larsson closed in and appeared to use both hands to push Bale in the back, sending him to the turf.

With Spurs fans screaming for a penalty, Marriner sent shockwaves through White Hart Lane when he showed Bale a yellow card for diving. The Welshman went into hysterics, rolling on the turf in disbelief that he was being penalized. Spurs persevered, however, and continued to pepper Mignolet with shots.

In the 30th minute Sunderland had its first quality opportunity when striker Connor Wickham stabbed a shot that was saved by the chin of Spurs netminder Hugo Lloris. Six minutes later Bale was at it again, this time receiving Aaron Lennon’s pass and cracking a shot that Jack Colbeck blocked, leading some to claim handball. But Marriner once again played-on.

Eleven minutes after half-time, Spurs had yet another shout for a penalty when a Tottenham possession around the box found Clint Dempsey, whose shot was blocked by the outstretched arm of Cuellar. Marriner thought long and hard about blowing the whistle but decided against it, sending Villas-Boas into an uncharacteristically furious outburst.

Spurs continued their barrage on goal and in the 60th minute Scott Parker and Aaron Lennon each had shots cleared off the line by Colbeck. Just when it seemed nothing was going Tottenham’s way, Marriner finally gave them some relief. Lennon possessed the ball 35 yards out on the left side of the pitch. Looking to unlock the Spurs defense the winger dribbled laterally across the pitch where he was met by a reckless David Vaughan, who crashed into Lennon’s knee. Marriner didn’t hesitate and showed Vaughan a straight red card.

With the man advantage, Spurs continued to press to no avail. Villas-Boas then brought on Gylfi Sigurdsson in the 84th minute and directed his squad into a 3-1-6 formation. Sunderland manager Paulo Di Canio countered the tactic four minutes later by taking Wickham off and handing a debut to 18 year old Adam Mitchell. The move proved disastrous.

Smelling blood, Spurs immediately swung the ball to Bale on the right side of the pitch. With Mitchell showing the winger right, Bale shimmied and cut left before unleashing a ferocious shot from 25 yards out that dipped over Mignolet’s out-stretched hand.

The Welshman’s 21st goal of the season was enough to earn Spurs their highest points total in Premier League history, but it was all for naught as Arsenal held on to defeat Newcastle 1-0.

And so, Spurs now turn to a summer transfer window with hopes that their chairman, Daniel Levy, will open his checkbook and sign top players that can help the club crack the top four. The top priority, of course, will be to hold onto Bale, who is being closely watched by the world’s richest clubs including Real Madrid, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.