Spurs keep race for fourth alive with win over City
Champions will have to watch United lift the trophy if they beat Aston Villa tomorrow
Tottenham Hotspur's Clint Dempsey scores his team’s first goal against Manchester City. Photograph: John Walton/PA Wire
Tottenham Hotspur's Jermain Defoe scores the second at White Hart Lane. Photograph: John Walton/PA Wire.
Tottenham Hotspur's Gareth Bale the third at White Hart Lane. Photograph: John Walton/PA Wire.
Tottenham 3 Man City 1: It was a turnaround so startling as to seem faintly ridiculous. For 75 minutes, Tottenham Hotspur huffed and puffed, Gareth Bale was anonymous and the club's Champions League dream looked ready to absorb a body blow. Manchester City's first-half superiority had been total and they were pretty comfortable, if less forward-thinking, after the interval. Vincent Kompany, City's captain, had been imposing to the point of frightening.
But in seven crazy, impossible-to-foresee minutes, Tottenham revived spectacularly and City were left to consider that their grip on the Premier League title may not last beyond Manchester United's home fixture against Aston Villa on Monday night.
André Villas-Boas could reflect that his Tottenham substitutions changed the game but the goal that equalised Samir Nasri's effort was all about Bale's craft and vision and, also, an inexplicable freeze from Kompany. Clint Dempsey did not stop and he gleefully tapped home Bale's cross from the right, which had come from the outside of his left boot.
Tottenham went for the jugular and they located it when the substitute Jermain Defoe jinked inside Kompany and unfurled a right-footed curler that swelled the far corner of the net. The little striker's stock-in-trade move had brought his first goal at club level of the year. And with the crowd at fever pitch, another substitute, Tom Huddlestone, released Bale, who exploded clear of his City shackles before clipping a delightful finish over Joe Hart.
City could not believe it. They might have been fortunate to avoid seeing Nasri sent off in the eighth minute for a terrible challenge on Kyle Walker but they deserved more from their general contribution to the spectacle. Instead, as has been the theme of their championship defence, they were left with regrets. There had been no doubt about which club needed these points the most but the manner in which Tottenham seized them was breathtaking.
Roberto Mancini's intent had been plain at the start, with two men up front and menace in midfield, and his team crafted the early marker. There appeared to be little on as Carlos Tevez scuttled to win the ball and hold it up by the corner flag, with Jan Vertonghen at his back. But Tevez worked a little room, turned and slipped a pass inside the ball-watching Scott Parker for the on-rushing Gareth Barry. His pull-back invited Nasri to guide a volley into the corner of the net. For the former Arsenal player, it was a sweet moment.
City's form has come too late for their title defence but they have regularly been good to watch in recent weeks and there was a lot to like about their game here. Tevez was relentless, epitomising the team's collective work ethic and he dovetailed seamlessly with Edin Dzeko, who scored four times in this fixture last season. It was possible to fear for Tottenham every time City swept forward in the first half. Nasri was elusive in a good way, although his studs-up, over-the-ball connection with Walker's shin was an ugly moment. The only conclusion to draw about the lack of censure was that the referee, Lee Mason, could not have seen it.
The game ought to have been over at the interval. Pablo Zabaleta and Tevez combined to release Nasri and, as white shirts converged, he poked narrowly wide of the far post while Hugo Lloris twice made excellent saves. First, after Tevez had set Dzeko in between the Tottenham centre-halves, the goalkeeper flung out his right hand to block and then, from Tevez's header, his reflexes were first-rate.
Tottenham did have first-half chances. Dempsey weighted a pass inside Nasri for Walker but Hart left his line quickly to make the target sufficiently small – Walker's shot flew off him – while Dempsey directed a free header over the crossbar from a 44th-minute corner.
The second half had felt seismic from the outset for Tottenham. If they were to make a statement regarding their Champions League aspirations, it surely needed to come here. City pressed and stifled and, for so long, Villas-Boas's players appeared to have few options in possession. Where could the inspiration come from?
The answer was obvious. Bale was peripheral for most of the match, struggling to exert an influence from his starting central role and, for the first part of the second half, on the right flank. The home crowd feared the worst and they had taken to outlandish appeals for penalties when Bale, suddenly, helped to turn the game on its head. His assist for Dempsey was the spark; his ice-cool finish the clinching moment. Tottenham are back in business.