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Bale brilliance makes wasteful Liverpool pay

Andre Villas-Boas is yet to impose his will on Tottenham, but until he does he is fortunate to be able to rely on the brilliance of Gareth Bale.

The Welshman was irresistible at White Hart Lane, the spotlight tracking him as closely as the European clubs who will seek his signature in the summer.

He scored once and made another for his side, but brought Liverpool back into the game with an inadvertent own-goal and picked up a booking for diving.

By the end Tottenham had hung on for a second successive victory that lifts them to fifth in the league, and left the home support hailing the winger.

Liverpool were left to bemoan poor fortune and finishing in a game they controlled for long periods without reward, or the benefit of the officials' doubt. They drop to 12th, with just three wins this season.

The game brought together two clubs in search of consistent form led by men seeking to establish their credibility in the Premier League. Andre Villas-Boas and Brendan Rodgers, young coaches long on theory but short on track-record, were on the men-most-likely list for both Liverpool and Tottenham this summer.

Football's sliding doors could have conspired to see them in the opposite dugouts at White Hart Lane. Rodgers was among the names considered by Spurs while they pondered Harry Redknapp's future. Liverpool blinked first and hired him, but only after Villas-Boas turned down an interview at Anfield.

Both still acclimatising to new clubs, they pitched positive teams into a fixture that might provide a springboard for their season. Moussa Dembele returned to the Tottenham starting line-up for the first time since early October, with William Gallas back to replace the ill Stephen Caulker at centre-half.

The visitors fielded an attacking line-up, Raheem Sterling and Jose Enrique flanking Luis Suarez with Steven Gerrard in support and Stephen Downing at left-back.

But amid the wealth of width it was Bale who re-emphasised his huge value to Tottenham, and to a chairman braced for the inevitable offers to roll in. It took the Welshman just seven minutes to set the tone for the game, outstripping Sterling and Gerrard with a burst from the halfway line that ended with a rolled cross that Aaron Lennon sidefooted home.

It was Bale's third major intervention in as many minutes. The first came from a dipping free-kick from 35 yards that Pepe Reina fended away. The second was laid on by Jermain Defoe, who slid Bale into the inside channel only for his shot to roll wide of the far post.

It was hard to say which was the bigger surprise: that Defoe passed when just 18 yards from goal, or that Bale missed. Within 10 minutes Bale made amends, his second free-kick from distance stretching Tottenham's lead after a deflection off Jordan Henderson in the wall left Reina flat-footed.

Henderson will consider himself triply unfortunate, having been penalised for the free-kick when clipping Clint Dempsey's heels 30 yards from goal to give Bale the opportunity. Just two minutes earlier the Liverpool midfielder had missed his side's best chance of the half, steering wide with the goal gaping after indecision between Hugo Lloris and Kyle Walker left him with an unguarded net.

Liverpool's misfortune continued as they established a grip on the game, thanks largely to the industry of Suarez.


On 36 minutes Gerrard appeared to be shoved in the back by Dembele as he bore down on Lloris. Referee Phil Dowd was unmoved but Liverpool should still have profited as the loose ball fell to Suarez. His scuffed finish lacked pace, however, allowing Walker to scramble the ball off the line.

As the half ended, even the deflections went Tottenham's way, with Michael Dawson's clearance ricocheting off Gallas and over the bar.

The visitors' momentum continued into the second half, helped by a touch on the rudder from Rodgers during the interval.

They emerged with Joe Allen, previously deployed to collect the ball from Reina or the centre-halves, playing further forward. Henderson and Gerrard, suffering a chastening evening against Sandro and Dembele, were also more progressive. It produced a dividend, with Suarez almost the beneficiary.

After a poor Dawson pass created a chance for Jose Enrique, Suarez wriggled in on goal on Tottenham's left and was only foiled by Lloris saving at his feet. His energy also did for Dowd, who was left sprawling when the Uruguayan accidentally barged into him. Suarez resisted the urge to brandish an imaginary card at the referee for diving.

After 72 minutes Liverpool's effort was rewarded, although Bale was once again the pivotal figure, Lennon's goal-line clearance from a Gerrard header cannoning in off the Welshman's head from two yards.

The goal raised Liverpool's intensity and set White Hart Lane on edge.

Spurs have managed just a single clean sheet in the league this season, with frittered leads at home stalling their progress.

It was rare relief for the home side, and Suarez should have levelled for the visitors on 80 minutes. Persistence from Daniel Agger took him to the byline, from where he hooked the ball back over his head towards the striker. The chance fell perfectly for Suarez but from the penalty spot he volleyed over, to his disgust and general astonishment.

There was time for Bale to complete his full-house of interventions in the game with a yellow card for diving, awarded after he tumbled in a challenge as he bore down Agger. There was contact with the defender, but Bale might have stayed on his feet. As long as he stays in this form, his manager will not care. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent