Villas-Boas: Bale persecuted by referees
Sunderland 1 Tottenham 2
The English FA has refused to rescind Gareth Bale's latest yellow card for diving despite furious suggestions from Tottenham that their winger is being unfairly persecuted by referees.
Bale will now miss tomorrow's match against Reading after his fifth caution of the season, even though three of those bookings have come in the past five games for highly contentious incidents of supposed simulation.
The issue of diving has been at the forefront of referees' minds this season following high-profile incidents involving Luis Suarez and Santi Cazorla. There is a clear sense at Tottenham that Bale is being punished for his reputation rather than the reality of recent incidents.
On Saturday, Bale went down under a challenge from Sunderland's Craig Gardner. There had clearly been contact but Bale was still cautioned by referee Martin Atkinson.
Andre Villas-Boas, the Tottenham manager, claimed Bale's treatment "looks like persecution". The Wales winger also took the unusual step of speaking out on the issue after the game. "That's three times now I've been clipped and booked for no reason," he said.
The FA, however, has ruled that this latest booking cannot be rescinded as the referee dealt with the incident during the game. Although the disciplinary code could be changed at the end of the season to review incidents such as Bale's booking and unpunished dives, the current policy is that retrospective action can relate only to off-the-ball incidents that the match officials missed or cases of mistaken identity.
Villas-Boas' reputation is being rebuilt at White Hart Lane and a Champions League place would represent success in his first season. "The Champions League is the objective of the club," he said. "But we've only just finished the first half of the Premier League so there are still a lot of games to be played and the problem with the league this season is that everybody is very tight together.
"It's not something that we need to get this first year, we're still rebuilding a team that lost very important players, but that's what makes us tick, that's for sure."
Having fallen behind against the run of play in the first half when Waterford man John O'Shea scored his first goal for Sunderland, Tottenham were fortunate to equalise at the start of the second when Carlos Cuellar headed into his own goal. But their second was down to the speed of Aaron Lennon, who burst away from Matthew Kilgallon and past O'Shea before beating Simon Mignolet.
Martin O'Neill was content with Sunderland's performance. The St Stephen's Day win over Manchester City was an unexpected bonus, but this was a step too far.
O'Neill is hoping to sign former Everton midfielder Tim Cahill from New York Red Bulls on a short-term loan to boost his goal threat from midfield but that is unlikely to be the only new addition during the January transfer window.
And despite hearing that Villas-Boas had said it would be "completely impossible" for Sunderland to turn Danny Rose's loan move from Spurs into a permanent switch, O'Neill remains hopeful that deal will still happen. (© Daily Telegraph, London)