Bale pulls the strings for Spurs as Liverpool leave it too late
Tottenham 2 Liverpool 1:Gareth Bale had a hand in two goals – and a face in another – as he inspired Tottenham Hotspur into a two-goal lead over Liverpool before unluckily diverting the ball into his own net as the visitors surged back strongly. In the end the first-half goals by Aaron Lennon and Bale proved just enough to give Spurs the three points.
Andre Villas-Boas’s side had Liverpool reeling within minutes. Bale was the tormentor-in-chief. First he confounded Pepe Reina with a 35-yard free-kick that wobbled in the air and forced the goalkeeper into an improvised save. Then, after Jermain Defoe dispossessed Steven Gerrard in midfield, Bale galloped down the left wing before firing wide. A breakthrough was looking inevitable and, sure enough, in the seventh minute Bale embarked on another jagged dash down the left. After leaving three opponents panting in his wake, the Welshman delivered a low cross that Lennon turned into the net at the back post.
That woke Liverpool up and Hugo Lloris had to make an urgent save from Luis Suarez moments later. Spurs were full of swagger going forward but shaky at the back and Jordan Henderson spurned a prime opportunity in the 14th minute when, after a mix-up between Lloris and Kyle Walker, he failed to find the unguarded net from 20 yards. That wastefulness was in contrast to the shot that Bale produced to double Tottenham’s lead in the 16th minute, his 25-yard free-kick swerving outrageously, possibly aided by a slight deflection, before landing in the opposite side of the goal to the one where Reina was heading.
Liverpool kept on trying to probe and pull the Tottenham defence apart. They created half-chances, with Lloris having to make another save from Suarez in the 32nd minute and Jose Enrique, again deployed in an attacking role ahead of Stewart Downing, working his way into good positions without being able to find an effective finish. The hosts were even more ill-at-ease in the 36th minute when Suarez slipped a fine ball through to Gerrard, who tumbled in the box under the challenge of Mousa Dembele. Liverpool began to appeal for a penalty but then thought they might get a goal instead when the ball broke to Suarez, who poked it towards the net from 10 yards, only for Walker to clear it off the line.
Liverpool made a much better start to the second period. Their thoughtful possession play worried the White Hart Lane crowd. Tottenham’s lead was not looking unassailable. A mistake by Martin Skrtel in the 53rd minute gave the hosts their first sight of goal of the second half but Clint Dempsey could not take advantage.
If Liverpool’s display was showing that their noble intentions are being undermined by a lack of top-quality players in some areas, Dempsey’s continuing toils for Tottenham, until his substitution in the 63rd minute, did not suggest he would have made a telling difference if his mooted move to Anfield had materialised in the summer. Bale remained in the sort of form that suggested he could improve almost any club. Two minutes later, however, his fortunes nosedived. The forward was booked for a dive and then after Spurs failed to repel a Liverpool corner, Lennon booted a Gerrard header off the line but straight into the face of the Welshman, whose pain was compounded as the ball bounced into the net.