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Gareth Bale’s superb strike earned Tottenham Hotspur victory over 10-man West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns and closed the gap to third-placed Chelsea to one point in the Barclays Premier League.
The Wales international struck his 11th league goal of the campaign midway through the second half to end a run of three successive draws for Andre Villas-Boas’s team.
Albion played the final 42 minutes with 10 men after defender Goran Popov was sent off for spitting in the direction of Spurs defender Kyle Walker, and Tottenham took full advantage of their numerical advantage to dominate the second period despite the loss of leading scorer Jermain Defoe with an ankle injury.
Bale was a constant threat with his pace and power as he followed up his midweek equaliser at Norwich with another crucial goal.
Popov’s red card was the last thing Albion would have wanted with Steve Clarke’s charges having won only two of their previous 13 matches in all competitions and it ultimately left the hosts with too much to do.
The Baggies began brightly, with Lukaku’s flicked header finding the recalled Shane Long in space and with only Hugo Lloris to beat. But the striker’s first touch was heavy and forced him out wide and he eventually overran the ball which went harmlessly out of play.
Lukaku was causing plenty of problems and the on-loan Chelsea centre-forward forced a low save out of Lloris after good play by West Brom captain Chris Brunt and the Frenchman again pulled off a fine save to prevent the home side going ahead after 20 minutes after Graham Dorrans threaded a pass through the Tottenham rearguard to Long who took the ball in his stride and raced into the box. Lloris was equal to the situation and blocked the resulting shot from the Republic of Ireland international.
Bale was posing the biggest threat to Albion and one 60-yard run ended with a menacing centre which flew across the face of goal, especially once Defoe, playing in front of England head coach Roy Hodgson, landed awkwardly on his left ankle when avoiding a challenge from Long, and had to be replaced by transfer window signing Lewis Holtby.
Lukaku shot over from a narrow angle and in first-half injury time Foster tipped a dipping effort from Bale over the bar in an even first period, but the tide turned just over two minutes into the second half when Albion were reduced to 10 men. Popov appeared to spit in the direction of Spurs defender Kyle Walker after the two had squared up to each other and referee Marc Clattenburg instantly brandished a red card at the on-loan Dynamo Kiev left-back.
Albion responded by bringing on a natural replacement for Popov in Liam Ridgewell but they were forced to sacrifice Lukaku up front.
It was now one-way traffic towards the Albion goal and Foster turned aside a low drive from Holtby. The former England international was also alert in blocking a close-range attempt from Bale, but there was no stopping the Welshman’s next bite at the cherry.
The winger, playing in a more central role, received a pass from Walker, brushed off the challenge of Morrison and unleashed a 20-yard shot high into the net leaving Foster with no chance. The West Brom keeper did save an attempt late on by Clint Dempsey, as Spurs searched for the second goal, but there was no way back for the Baggies.
West Bromwich Albion manager Steve Clarke: “I thought in the first half we were the better team. We showed signs of our old self; the way we were pre-Christmas. It’s been a difficult run for us and a difficult week for us – but we felt the game was a chance to get ourselves back on an even keel.
“The events at the start of the second half were so disappointing for us because we felt this was a chance to get our season back on track. The first-half performance showed that. If any team was going to score in the first half it was us. We had a good control of the game.
“When I calm down a little bit and I go away from here I think I’ll be able to take away a lot of positives from the performance when we were 11 v 11 against a very good Tottenham team. I’m angry because it was a game we could get a positive result to get us back on an even keel. We identified this game, changed the shape of the team and the way we played and I thought in the first half it was working really well. So, you can understand the frustration I’ve got that we’ve come away with nothing again."
Tottenham Hotspur manager Andre Villas-Boas: “It has been a very important week for us. To get four points away from home, with not much time between the games, is excellent. We have put ourselves in a very good position to threaten for third place. I am extremely happy apart from the big setback to Jermain Defoe. He will have a scan and only when we see the results will we know the extent [of his ankle injury]. It is a big blow because he is an important player and person for us, on and off the pitch.
"We started today with [Gareth] Bale through the middle and Clint Dempsey on the left. It is something he feels comfortable with. It gives us even that possibility for sure. It is something we have to look to."
|11 Feb 2013||v Liverpool (A)|
|23 Feb 2013||v Sunderland (H)|
|02 Mar 2013||v Chelsea (A)|
|09 Mar 2013||v Swansea (H)|
|16 Mar 2013||v Stoke (A)|
|30 Mar 2013||v West Ham (A)|