Saturday 16 December 2017

Bale mixes the sublime with comical for Spurs

Stoke 1
Tottenham 2

Richard Gibson

Gareth Bale's double of contrasting vintage earned Tottenham's first win of the Premier League season, but late controversy marred a second steal for Harry Redknapp's team at Stoke this year. The dichotomy provided by Bale was not the major talking point at the Britannia Stadium as goal-line technology came once more to the fore.

The Welshman went from the subconscious to the sublime in 11 first-half minutes -- opening the scoring via his face before lacing a volley into the top corner on the half-hour after Ricardo Fuller's moment of opportunism briefly levelled things. Yet it was claims for a second Stoke equaliser at the death, when a header from the debutant Jonathan Walters appeared to have gone in, which dominated post-match discussion. Replays showed that Peter Crouch's contortion act, which saw him block the ball as he collapsed to the turf, took place the wrong side of the goal-line and left the City players outraged and appealing for either a goal or a penalty.

Replays suggested the ball was over the line but contact was made with the England striker's chest rather than arms. The referee Chris Foy was well-placed to view the incident, which came when a deflected Ryan Shawcross header looped off the crossbar and the forehead of Walters, a £2.75m signing from Ipswich, connected with the rebound.

"The ball may well have gone over but initially it was a foul on the goalkeeper," said Redknapp. "Robert Huth pushed him in the chest with two hands and Heurelho Gomes says he was also fouled before that.

"But we deserved to win anyway because in the first half they couldn't get near us. You always know it's going to come into your box a lot here, there will be goalmouth scrambles and not many teams will come here and win this season."

Stoke manager Tony Pulis, who may be without the striker Mamady Sidibe for the rest of the season after a scan revealed he snapped an Achilles tendon late in the game, agreed with Redknapp. "It did look a foul but if he doesn't give it then it's a goal," he said. "Sometimes you only need to look at the reaction of the players to tell you. Using technology would only take a minute and if you had two goals in a game that is only a couple of minutes."

Victory here in similarly sodden conditions five months ago proved a significant brick in Tottenham's path into Europe's elite competition.

Indeed their first foray into the Champions League this week was also bruising, with Redknapp forced into five changes following injuries incurred on the Young Boys' synthetic surface.

Crouch was the only recognised forward available here. Jermain Defoe and Roman Pavlyuchenko could return for the lucrative second leg at White Hart Lane -- simply reaching the group stages would be worth a cool £10m -- but both are rated doubtful.

But the bare bones worked miracles, particularly Bale. Failing to net with 18 attempts at Man City's Joe Hart a week earlier, Spurs saw the funny side of their opener, which cannoned in off Bale's nose.

Aaron Lennon popped up on the left and lofted to the far post, where Bale poked a shot which was blocked by the onrushing goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen. His save began a pinball which included two inadvertent rebounds off Bale, the second decisive.

Bale's second on the half-hour, to put the visitors back in front, was simply irresistible with Lennon once again the provider. He cut infield to dink the ball beyond the back post, where Bale sized up the flight of the ball and arched his back for a precision volley into the net.

"He has improved out of recognition," said Redknapp. "That second goal was one of the great goals -- to put it in the top corner from there was a great piece of skill."

Bale's brace was bisected by a Stoke equaliser, which came when Walters won a corner on the right. Matthew Etherington's delivery was re-directed into the danger area by Younes Kaboul, under pressure from Abdoulaye Faye, and Fuller's flick with the outside of his right boot briefly restored parity.

Sunday Independent

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