Bale’s stunning last-gasp strike lifts Spurs to third
West Ham 2 Tottenham 3
Gareth Bale struck one of the goals of the season to decide one of the games of the season at White Hart Lane last night.
It needed to be a special strike from Spurs No 11 to beat Jussi Jaaskelainen, who was giving one of the great goalkeeping displays of the season.
This was a totally enthralling match, fabulous entertainment from the moment that Bale scored the first, fluctuating through West Ham's comeback through Andy Carroll and Joe Cole, before Gylfi Sigurdsson made it 2-2.
Then, just before the final whistle, and with Jaaskelainen having made a string of saves, Bale let fly from 30 yards.
Sensational. He really is a gem: athletic, technical, quick, full of determination and clearly loving his more central role. As the Welshman strengthened his claims to be Footballer of the Year, Spurs extended their unbeaten run since December and climbed to third in the Premier League.
For West Ham it was an ultimately frustrating night which had begun in such emotional circumstances with tributes to the late, great Bobby Moore on the 20th anniversary of his death.
Moore's daughter Roberta had been presented to the crowd before kick-off.
His grandchildren Poppy, Freddie and Ava led the teams out in their Moore No 6 shirts, standing on the apron of the pitch as Upton Park shook with a powerful minute's applause from all present for the much-missed Moore.
After such a build-up, West Ham began on a tide of emotion, troubling Spurs' defence. Bale was soon to punish West Ham, exploiting poor defending, but the hosts were strong early on. Villas-Boas had started Jan Vertonghen at left-back, instead of Benoit Assou-Ekotto, as he was concerned about West Ham being a "very tall team".
Carroll tried to make a nuisance of himself, outjumping Vertonghen as West Ham charged into the visitors.
When Lewis Holtby lost the ball, Mohamed Diame tested Hugo Lloris. West Ham ventured upfield again, the move started by Kevin Nolan turning away from Emmanuel Adebayor, and launching the attack.
Cole worked the ball across to Matt Jarvis, who tried to use Michael Dawson to disguise his intentions from Lloris but Spurs excellent 'keeper still saved well.
Just as the West Ham fans were chanting caustically about Bale, the Welshman scored. West Ham gifted Bale the opportunity, beginning with poor distribution from Guy Demel.
Bale had possession, and James Collins backed off when he should have tried to show the Spurs No 11 on to his right. Bale's left foot made contact and the ball was flying past the sluggish Jaaskelainen.
Bale's movement constantly worried West Ham. Occasionally he was on the left, at other times he was racing through the middle, looking to link with Adebayor.
Spurs seemed in control and their supporters took to taunting Carroll.
The baiters were soon bit as Carroll equalised. The England striker won the penalty when Scott Parker foolishly dived in near the post.
Parker, the former West Ham captain abused by those who once sung his name, caught Carroll's left foot and the West Ham No 8 fell to the floor. Howard Webb had a good look at the debris before pointing rightly, and rather dramatically, to the spot. Carroll's conversion was unstoppable.
West Ham suffered a blow when Nolan limped off, being replaced by Matt Taylor 10 minutes from the break. The game was opening up, both sides chasing the lead.
Cole caressed a pass into the Spurs area for Jarvis, who controlled and looked likely to score until Kyle Walker threw himself into an athletic block.
Spurs almost scored on the cusp of half-time. Bale curled over a corner and there was the usual traffic-jam of jostling bodies in the box. Steven Caulker reached the ball first, heading goalwards. Any criticism levelled at Jaaskelainen earlier was forgotten as the Finn produced a flying save, pushing Caulker's header away one-handed.
Jaaskelainen continued his good form in the second half, keeping out Vertonghen and Caulker again.
Villas-Boas sent on Sigurdson for Holtby and the Icelander almost had an instant impact. Collecting a pass from Parker, Sigurdsson sent a shot spinning towards goal, which Jaaskelainen pushed on to the post. Adebayor had the freedom of the West Ham penalty area. He had to score. He had all the goal to aim at. To the cackling of thousands of locals, Adebayor headed straight at Jaaskelainen. Villas-Boas punched the air in anger.
His mood worsened moments later when West Ham took the lead after 58 minutes.
Cole's composure and accuracy were as good as Adebayor's were poor. He timed his run to beat the Spurs offside trap and collect Joey O'Brien's pass. Cole controlled the ball and slightly scuffed it but it had enough strength and direction to elude Lloris.
The Jaaskelainen show resumed. From another Bale corner, Caulker was granted a free header but Jaaskelainen clawed it away. Then, the West Ham 'keeper pushed a Bale piledriver over.
Then Spurs equalised from another Bale ball in after he had exposed the limitations of substitute Emanuel Pogatetz. Bale's delivery caused chaos, the ball bouncing around before Sigurdsson forced it home at the far-post.
Jaaskelainen's goal was now under siege and his team were grateful to his reflexes. He saved from Bale and then Adebayor. But then came Bale again.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)