Brilliant Bale fires Tottenham Hotspur up to third after beating West Ham
West Ham 2 Tottenham Hotspur 3
All that was left to do was offer commiserations to Jussi Jaaskelainen who, it should be noted, was excellent last night. In fact for a goalkeeper just two months away from his 38th birthday he was an inspiration. But there is no easy way of saying this: he was up against Gareth Bale and these days Bale just seems to do whatever he wants.
There were almost 90 minutes on the clock when Bale, who had already scored Tottenham's first goal, took it upon himself to end this engrossing game once and for all. He had been put on the floor by Joey O'Brien, picked himself up, took a short pass from substitute Tom Carroll and with one swish of that left boot sent it soaring into the top corner of Jaaskelainen's goal.
It is at moments like these that seasons are made or lost. The ball at the feet of the prodigy, the clock ticking down and three precious points on offer to take Spurs into third place. Once the ball had hit the net Bale turned and ran straight to the touchline for a man-hug with his manager. And to think that just a year ago, Villas-Boas was about to be dispatched by Chelsea with a familiar story of dressing room betrayal following him out the door.
This morning, Villas-Boas looks down on Chelsea, two points behind his club in fourth place and, with the best British footballer of the moment at his disposal, is probably wondering at the funny old hand that football can deal a man. On Sunday, his team face a vulnerable Arsenal at home and should they win that match then they really will start to believe at White Hart Lane that third place is a possibility this season.
Spurs are unbeaten in the league since 9 December and there is no-one better than Bale at the moment. This was his 12th goal in 13 games and no matter how many times he draws a foul or gets kicked, he clambers back up to his feet and demands the ball again. It hardly needs saying that it is a habit that bears close resemblance to that of Cristiano Ronaldo.
On the night that they marked 20 years since the passing of Bobby Moore, West Ham and their indefatigable goalkeeper must have thought when the board went up with the extra injury-time they were home and dry. They had come from behind after Bale's first goal through Andy Carroll's penalty and then Joe Cole's second half strike but with Upton Park sensing victory, Spurs hunted them down.
In the aftermath, Sam Allardyce wondered aloud if anyone else other than Bale ever scored for Spurs and he was not being flippant. They are by no means a one-man team but for the moments that decide games he is a very useful one man to have around. For all the difficult characters whom Villas-Boas inherited at Chelsea, at Spurs he has inherited a player coming into the kind of form you see but once in a generation.
Allardyce took issue with referee Howard Webb's failure to send off Mousa Dembele after he was booked early on for a foul on Kevin Nolan. After that Allardyce cited the occasions, when the Belgian dragged back Mohamed Diame, did the same to Cole and then subsequently kicked the ball away, when Webb might have given him a second yellow card.
West Ham lost Nolan to injury in the first half, after he was stamped on top of his foot. He will be checked today with the fear at West Ham is that it could be a cracked bone.
It was not so hostile that the minute's applause in memory of Moore was spoiled but it was a surprise to hear the home support turn on Scott Parker. Another former West Ham captain, and one who did his best to right the listing boat that was the club's 2010-2011 relegation season, he got the booing treatment as soon as he put a foot on the ball.
On 14 minutes Guy Demel presented Bale with the ball outside the area and Bale worked his way left before unleashing a shot across the goal and into the bottom corner of Jaaskelainen's goal. When his shot hit the net, the song comparing Bale to "a chimp" died in the throats of the away support. One imagines it was quite a satisfying moment for the man himself.
The penalty for West Ham's equaliser was a close call for Webb. Certainly Parker's challenge on Carroll in the area made contact with the ball, but by the same token it felt reckless and not a little bit lacking in control. On the balance of the current law's interpretation, Webb was within his rights to give it.
Carroll, who had got his own share of stick from the away support, struck the penalty confidently high into Lloris' net. It is only his third goal in 16 games for the club since joining from Liverpool on loan at the start of September but, along with his recent winner against Swansea, a good one.
Jaaskelainen made the first of a series of saves when he stopped a header from Steven Caulker before the break and the West Ham goalkeeper was even better after half-time. He pushed a shot from Gylfi Sigurdsson, a substitute, onto the post and then picked himself up to get in the way of Emmanuel Adebayor's header from the rebound.
Later he would save another header from Caulker, left alone in the box once again, and then, the best of all, tipped another shot from Bale onto the bar. In the meantime, West Ham scored a second. O'Brien picked out Cole's nicely timed run in behind Spurs' defence and he hit a shot on the spin which wrong-footed Lloris who let it into the far corner of his goal.
Bale's free-kick created Spurs' equaliser. O'Brien headed the ball against Winston Reid and when it broke, James Collins failed to make contact. At the back post, Sigurdsson squeezed the ball in.
There was another fine save from Jaaskelainen from Adebayor's header as the pressure from Spurs increased. In fact the announcement that Jaaskelainen was man of the match was made just a matter of seconds after Bale had done what Bale does best and won the match
Goals: West Ham United: Carroll pen 25, Cole 58. Tottenham Hotspur: Bale 13, 90, Sigurdsson 76
Substitutes: West Ham Taylor (Nolan, 35), Pogatetz (Demel, 72), Collison (Diame, 84).
Tottenham Sigurdsson (Holtby, 56), T Carroll (Dembele, 75), Livermore (Parker, 88).
Booked: West Ham Diame, J Cole, O'Neil, Collins. Tottenham Dembele.
Man of the match Bale Match rating 8/10.
Possession: West Ham 38% Tottenham 62%.
Attempts on target: West Ham 6 Tottenham 16.
Referee: H Webb (South Yorkshire). Att 35,005.
Belfast Telegraph Digital