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.