Tottenham relied heavily on the outrageous talent of Gareth Bale once again as a brilliant strike from the Welsh star masked a horrid team effort in a 1-0 win over Southampton at White Hart Lane.
Spurs had produced an awful, insipid performance until 86 minutes, when the newly-crowned Footballer of the Year and PFA Player of the Year cut in from the right and thundered a lovely effort inside the far post.
It was Bale's 20th of the season in the Premier League - only Teddy Sheringham and Juergen Klinsmann have scored more for Spurs in one campaign - and put Tottenham back in fourth, a point ahead of Arsenal prior to their rivals' game at QPR in the late kick-off.
Southampton must have felt they should have won the game, with Nathaniel Clyne missing a presentable chance and Rickie Lambert striking the post, but the defeat leaves them just four points clear of relegation following Wigan's win over West Brom.
The match kicked off at 3.30pm after a delay due to traffic problems, but Spurs decided to start playing rather later than that. In a sluggish first half for the home side, they allowed Southampton to cause problems in between the lines and carve out the better chances.
After 11 minutes, Mauricio Pochettino's side should have taken the lead. Clyne bombed on from right-back and raced onto a clever ball over the top from Steven Davis to go one-on-one with Hugo Lloris. However, after meeting the bouncing ball with the laces of his right boot he only succeeded in swiping the ball just wide of the far post.
Spurs only briefly flickered into life, with Bale struggling to affect proceedings and Jermain Defoe too isolated in attack. The returning Aaron Lennon carved out one opening when darting away from Luke Shaw on the left but Jack Cork cleared his cross for Saints.
Southampton continued to find attacks focused down the right productive and only a smart intervention from Michael Dawson prevented Lambert from getting on the end of a low cross from Guly do Prado.
And, after Moussa Dembele was replaced by Lewis Holtby after suffering a hamstring problem, Southampton struck the woodwork when a low free-kick from Lambert was tipped onto the post by Lloris, with the keeper following up by saving Jos Hooiveld's header.
Inside six minutes of the restart they had another excellent opportunity. The sprightly Lallana lost Dawson with a lovely piece of skill, lifting the ball over the defender's leg before producing a weak effort off the end of his boot that posed Lloris no real problem. Lallana threatened again when drilling in a low effort from the left that Tom Huddlestone turned behind for a corner.
On 68 minutes Spurs mustered a rare shot at goal and even that was fired well over the bar by Clint Dempsey after substitute Emmanuel Adebayor laid the ball off to him with an extravagant touch. Despite a late rally, it appeared the home side would be frustrated in their efforts to secure a win.
But Bale can never be completely subdued, and after an uncharacteristically quiet performance he decided the game in favour of Spurs. Cutting in from the right, the Welsh star carried the ball across the face of goal and thundered an effort inside the far post from 20 yards.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Gareth Bale (Tottenham) - Was pretty rubbish for 80-odd minutes but he decided the contest with another moment of quality.
SPURS: Lloris 6, Walker 6, Dawson 7, Vertonghen 6, Assou-Ekotto 5, Huddlestone 6, Dembele 6, Lennon 6, Bale 8, Dempsey 5, Defoe 6. Subs: Holtby 6, Adebayor 6, Sigurdsson 6.
SOUTHAMPTON: Boruc 6, Clyne 8, Fonte 6, Hooiveld 6, Shaw 7, Davis 5, Cork 7, Guly 6, Lallana 8, Rodriguez 6, Lambert 6. Subs: Mayuka 6, Puncheon 6.
- Sports & Recreation
- Gareth Bale
- Rickie Lambert
- Hugo Lloris