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Gareth Bale bagged a second-half hat-trick as Tottenham Hotspur returned to the Barclays Premier League top four with a comfortable 4-0 victory at Aston Villa.
After dominating the first half without managing to make a breakthrough, Spurs went ahead in the 57th minute when Jermain Defoe nutmegged Brad Guzan to register his 14th goal of the season.
Bale, who had already gone close twice, stole the show, netting in the 61st, 73rd and 84th minutes to take his own tally for the campaign to 10.
The result ensures Tottenham keep up their push for Champions League football, moving them up to fourth in the table, level on points with fifth-placed Everton and sixth-placed West Brom, who had both won earlier in the day. Villa had been looking to bounce back from the 8-0 mauling they suffered at Chelsea three days ago but were beaten comprehensively again and remain only three points above the relegation zone in 16th place.
Villa were under heavy pressure from the off against Spurs, who went close in the 11th minute when Bale saw a curling effort from outside the box kept out by a fine diving save from Guzan. The hosts almost paid for giving the ball away in the 23rd minute as Tottenham broke forward and Aaron Lennon flashed a cross into the danger zone, which Chris Herd hacked behind for a corner.
Defoe headed the resulting delivery into Guzan’s arms and the American goalkeeper then came out to deny the same player, with Ciaran Clark scrambling the ball behind once again. Spurs were winning a succession of corners and it appeared to be only a matter of time before they broke the deadlock, but on the half-hour mark an error by William Gallas earned Villa a throw-in that nearly cost the Londoners dear. It allowed the home side to launch an attack and Joe Bennett fired the ball across goal, with Matthew Lowton just failing to get on the end of it.
Normal service was swiftly resumed as Emmanuel Adebayor nodded a Bale corner goalwards, with Guzan just managing to hold on to the ball. Adebayor then met Bale’s cut-back with a strike that was blocked by Nathan Baker, but moments later Villa threatened again as Lowton delivered a ball that a sliding Brett Holman could not finish at the far post. Tottenham were soon back on the front foot and Bale fizzed in a shot four minutes before the interval that Guzan batted away.
Villa were forced to replace Baker with Stephen Ireland at the end of the first half and they began the second with Marc Albrighton on for Ashley Westwood. There were some encouraging signs for the hosts in the opening minutes after the restart, albeit with Lowton ballooning a shot off-target and Christian Benteke being flagged offside as he brought a save out of Hugo Lloris.
Villa fans’ moods soon darkened, though, as Defoe put Tottenham in front, stabbing in through Guzan’s legs, having latched on to Kyle Naughton’s through-ball. Four minutes later Spurs doubled their lead. Benteke’s cross was cut out to launch a Tottenham counter-attack which Villa could not halt, with a Bennett tackle sending the ball to Bale, who advanced forward, rounded Guzan and prodded home.
It took a further 12 minutes for Bale to grab another goal and effectively end the game as a contest, the Welshman collecting Lennon’s pass in the box and slotting it into the corner. He completed his treble with six minutes of normal time remaining, sending the ball into the roof of the net from substitute Gylfi Sigurdsson’s tee-up.
Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert: "I'm not surprised by anything in football. Things can happen. You know it can happen, especially when you are playing one of the top sides.
“I have belief they will do it. They will give us everything again. People get carried away after the Norwich and Liverpool wins but I didn’t and neither did the team. I never let them get too high or too low.
“The nature of football is that you can get hurt at any moment. If you win, let it go. You have to move on to the next one; it’s the same with a defeat. They will be fine. If we win, lose or draw, we always treat them the same, we keep spirits the same. You can’t dwell on it, win or lose. You have to bounce back, there’s no other way, you have to do it. All I do is train and coach them the right way and try and get them to play the right way. We want to keep that going.
“The fans were brilliant. They are fantastic in the way they have supported us. They see what we’re trying to do. They have been terrific. It’s pleasing to hear them back us but we know we have to get results. If you look at the league you’re not a million miles away from mid-table. That’s what you have to strive for."
Tottenham Hotspur manager Andre Villas-Boas: “It was very good from start to finish. We fully deserved it. It didn't happen for us in the first half but we kept our concentration and came on very strong in the second half.
"The first half was excellent. In the second half Villa attacked a little bit more. We expected them to come on a bit stronger than in the first half. Fortunately, that opened a couple of spaces at the back and we managed to score the 1-0 which is always important and then 2-0 in the decisive moment of the game straight after their big chance so it puts us on a good run in December.
"In the first half we had so many chances, so much possession and the ball kept hitting their defenders and their goalkeeper made some brilliant saves. It could have gone Villa’s way in the beginning but if there was to be a winner it was to be us because of what we did in the first half and the second half.
“I’m happy for [Gareth Bale] because he’s just returned from injury, difficult moment, but he came very strong, played two games straight away and he’s improving every day. This time last year he was already making a difference for the team, this year the same, so it’s good to see him out there and being so influential.
"He is showing tremendous skills and talent, I think he is improving every day - he is such a young player - and he is helping the team. He is one of our major assets. His personality is wonderful, he is going through an excellent moment of his professional and personal life, and we are benefiting from that. The team changes so much from one year to another, and as he keeps learning, he will feel even better and probably his performances will improve. His finishing is very accurate. He has been prolific in front of goal this season and I think he is enjoying getting into those positions. His left foot is wonderful and the power and direction he applies on the ball is wonderful too."
|29 Dec 2012||v Wigan (H)|
|01 Jan 2013||v Swansea (A)|
|12 Jan 2013||v Southampton (H)|
|19 Jan 2013||v West Brom (A)|
|29 Jan 2013||v Newcastle (H)|
|02 Feb 2013||v Everton (A)|