Match Report: Gareth Bale the bullet makes light of Tottenham Hotspurs' striker shortage against West Bromwich Albion
West Bromwich Albion 0 Tottenham Hotspur 1
At the club that has almost run out of available strikers, it is some consolation that, in Gareth Bale, Tottenham Hotspur have the man who can do it all.
Some days you just have to sit back and admire the ability of Bale, as powerful and sleek as a bullet train gliding through the suburbs on the occasions when he ran at the West Bromwich Albion defence, and capable of the kind of explosive shooting that brought him the game's only goal.
He was not the only factor in Tottenham winning this game yesterday, Goran Popov's red card just after half-time was also critical, but the Welshman is a player of uncommon talent. In a team that does not have a single fit or available striker aside from Clint Dempsey, he is one hell of an option to have at your disposal.
It was Tottenham's misfortune that they lost Jermain Defoe to injury in the first half but they only have themselves to blame when it comes to the shortage of alternatives. Aside from Dempsey, there was not another recognised forward among the 16 outfield players in their squad, and it is provoking some discontent among the fans.
When Defoe went off with a twisted left ankle as he challenged for a ball with Shane Long, the Spurs fans responded by singing "we should have bought a striker", before, a little more light-hearted, suggesting they could have got Peter Odemwingie. But there is a serious point, that yet another failed pursuit of Leandro Damiao in January has left them short again with Emmanuel Adebayor still on African Nations duty.
Andre Villas-Boas was adamant that there were "no regrets at all" at not signing a striker last month. Defoe, who left the ground on crutches, will be out for as long as three weeks depending on what the scan shows up. It looks like Bale will be co-opted into a central striker's role that he played in pre-season. "He feels comfortable with that," Villas-Boas said.
For the time being, however, the league table looks good for Tottenham, who remain in fourth place but are just a point behind the misfiring Chelsea in third. The question is how long they can cover for the shortage of firepower in attack. With an in-form striker, this side could push Chelsea very hard for third place.
Spurs already looked the stronger side before Popov's 47th-minute dismissal and after he went it really was one-way traffic. The Macedonian left-back was involved in an argument with Kyle Walker down by the touchline on their side of the pitch and clearly spat at the Spurs right-back. Mark Clattenburg brought out the red card without hesitation.
There was barely suppressed anger from Steve Clarke at Popov's actions, prompting some regulars to observe he had been less put out by Odemwingie's unsanctioned road trip on Thursday. Clarke was of the opinion that had it not been for Popov's self-defeating behaviour, his team might have won the game. The West Brom manager had not seen Jonas Olsson's clash with his own fans.
Before then, West Brom had created chances for Long and Romelu Lukaku, the latter of whom had to come off to make way for Liam Ridgewell as Clarke rearranged his side. Just as Spurs were likely to get stronger, the home side handed them an advantage that they were always likely to build a win on.
From Spurs' point of view there was a very encouraging performance from Lewis Holtby, who came on for the injured Defoe and operated just behind Dempsey in attack. The Germany international with an English father is a diminutive, busy player who gets on the ball a lot and played a role in Bale's goal.
On that occasion, Bale found Holtby in an advanced position and just onside. From there the ball went right to Walker and back to Bale, who burst across the face of the West Brom area before hitting a shot so powerful that even Ben Foster, who had been equal to a lot, could not move quickly enough to keep out.
It was Bale's 11th league goal of the season, nine of which have come away from White Hart Lane. He is starting to make that race for third place look interesting.
It was 11 months to the day yesterday that Villas-Boas lost in his last visit to the Hawthorns as Chelsea manager, and was fired the following day. Now he is right on Chelsea's heels in the Premier League.
WBA: FOSTER 7/10, REID 6, McAULEY 6, OLSSON 5, POPOV 2, DORRANS 5, YACOB 4, MORRISON 6, BRUNT 6, LONG 5, LUKAKU 5
Spurs: LLORIS 6, ASSOU -EKOTTO 6, VERTONGHEN 6, DAWSON 6, WALKER 6, BALE 8, PARKER 7, DEMPSEY 6, DEMBELE 7, LENNON 7, DEFOE 5
Substitutions: West Brom Ridgewell 5 (Lukaku, 52) Rosenberg (Yacob, 81) Fortune (Dorrans, 82). Tottenham Holtby 7 (Defoe, 39) Gallas (Walker, 78). Sigurdsson (Lennon, 85).
Bookings: West Brom Dorrans. Sent off: West Brom Popov 47. Man of the match Bale. Match rating 6/10. Possession: West Brom 30%. Tottenham 70%. Attempts on target: West Brom 3. Tottenham 7. Referee M Clattenburg (Tyne and Wear). Attendance 24,978.
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