The Premier League table, showing Tottenham Hotspur in second place, made good reading for most of those filing out of White Hart Lane yesterday evening. Even with Manchester United able to vault back over them at Villa Park, the memory of some imperious football, not to mention goals from Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon and Jermain Defoe, sent Spurs fans home in good spirits.
It was Tottenham's sixth successive League win in an unbeaten run of 11 games which have gleaned 31 points, and they have a game in hand – at home to Everton – on the other contenders for the top places. "It shows you how well we've been playing of late," Harry Redknapp, the Spurs manager, said. "But you've got to keep winning, home and away, because everyone else up there is bang on form. I've never said we would win the League, I just said it's not impossible. It's an open League, there are six teams in all honesty."
However, Tottenham were helped yesterday by referee Stuart Attwell, who controversially sent off Gary Cahill after only 17 minutes. The central defender was shown a red card for bringing down Scott Parkerafter his own error had threatened to give the England midfield player a run on goal. After that the match became a contest between Jussi Jaaskelainen, the Bolton goalkeeper, and the Tottenham forwards.
Owen Coyle, the Bolton manager, was angered by the dismissal. "I've seen a lot of things in football but I'm totally bemused by that decision," he said. "Fifty yards out, even if he was the only player on the pitch it would be hard to argue that it was a clear goal-scoring opportunity. I think everyone in the stadium was baffled. We will appeal as soon as possible. If that's not overturned it will be incredible. We could have played with 11 and still lost but we'll never know."
Whatever the injustice of Cahill's dismissal, Bolton have lost 11 of 14, and no team in Premier League history with such a record have avoided relegation. "It's a testing time, but footballcan change very quickly," Coyle said.
Tottenham, who lost Ledley King on Friday with a recurrence of his knee problem, were ahead inside seven minutes. From a Luka Modric corner Bale got ahead of Dedryck Boyata, his marker, to flick the ball past Jaaskelainen with the outside of his left boot, which the Welshman removed and held up to show the inscription "Gary Speed RIP".
Eleven minutes later Cahill presented the ball to Parker under pressure from Emmanuel Adebayor and brought Parker down as he turned to head for goal, and Attwell showed the red card.
Coyle leapt off the bench, turning to gesture in almost imploring fashion at Redknapp. "Very harsh," Redknapp agreed. "I was shocked when he gave a red so far from goal. In the Chelsea game there was a banker red card when Demba Ba was pulled back and [the referee] gave a yellow."
Tottenham, though,with Modric, Parker, Bale and Lennon now revelling in extra space, showed no mercy, and could have run up a cricket score but for Jaaskelainen. He saved from Defoe, Adebayor, Bale and Defoe again before Bolton's sole first-half chance, a shot by Chris Eagles that looped goalwards off Younes Kaboul.
The barrage continued, with Bale shooting high, Adebayor failing to make the most of Bale's lofted diagonal pass, and Defoe accidentally blocking Modric's goalbound shot. The Spurs frustration could not continue, and on 50 minutes Adebayor and Defoe worked the ball to Lennon on the left, and he cut inside Gretar Steinsson and Boyata before driving the ball past Jaaskelainen.
It could have been 3-0 when Kevin Davies clearly fouled Benoît Assou-Ekotto as he charged into the penaltyarea in pursuit of a superlative through-pass by Modric, but Attwell somehow decided against a penalty.
On the hour, though, Spurs did get a third, and Bolton should be kicking themselves for allowing a virtualrerun of the game's first goal. Again Modric's corner found Bale attacking the near post, with a glancing headerthis time which Defoe turned in from six yards. The only surprise thereafter was that Spurs did not score more; Jaaskelainen produced a string of saves and when – at last – he was beaten, Defoe saw his shot hit the post.
Tottenham (4-4-2): Friedel; Walker, Kaboul, Gallas, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon (Van der Vaart, 73), Parker (Livermore, 85), Modric, Bale; Defoe, Adebayor.
Bolton (4-2-3-1): Jaaskelainen; Boyata, Cahill, Knight, Robinson; M Davies, Muamba (Steinsson, 27); Reo-Coker, Eagles, K Davies (Pratley, 62); Klasnic (Ngog, 72).
Referee Stuart Attwell.
Man of the match Jaaskelainen (Bolton).
Match rating 7/10.