The Welshman's ferocious late strike helped Spurs beat the 10-man Black Cats but they will play Europa League football next season after Arsenal won against Newcastle
Arsenal’s victory at Newcastle meant that Tottenham’s north London rivals will play in Europe’s elite competition next term, while Spurs will again have to settle for a place in the Europa League despite achieving their highest ever points total.
Spurs looked like they would be frustrated by Sunderland, a man down after David Vaughan’s dismissal in the 75th minute, but Bale launched a sensational 88th-minute winner into the top corner from 30 yards.
It showed just why Tottenham will have a difficult task in keeping their star man over the summer as the double player of the year slammed home his 21st Premier League goal of the campaign.
Andre Villas-Boas made one change to the Spurs side that beat Stoke last week as Benoit Assou-Ekotto returned from a knee injury to replace Steven Caulker in defence. Sunderland were without the ineligible Danny Rose while Phil Bardsley was left out of the squad entirely following unflattering reports about him on Sunday.
Tottenham supporters arrived at White Hart Lane full of hope and they created a tremendous atmosphere in the early stages as they looked to roar on the home side.
Spurs started brightly but the first real action of the game came in the 21st minute when Gareth Bale raced through on the Sunderland goal from Tom Huddlestone’s pass before going to ground in the penalty area under a clumsy challenge from Sebastian Larsson. It looked a certain penalty but referee Andre Marriner stunned Bale and the home crowd by waving away the appeals and showing the Welshman a yellow card for diving.
Sunderland had to wait until the 30th minute for their first chance of the game. A swift counterattack ended with Danny Graham breaking down the right and squaring for strike partner Connor Wickham, whose close-range shot was kept out by sharp reactions from Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
Tottenham attempted to reply but struggled to create clear-cut chances, Bale coming closest before the break with a dipping free kick over the wall from 30 yards that forced Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet into a diving save.
Spurs had another huge shout for a penalty shortly after the restart when Carlos Cuellar blocked Emmanuel Adebayor’s shot in the style of a goalkeeper with his arms - but Marriner again waved away the appeals to the fury of Villas-Boas on the touchline.
Sunderland’s defending was admirable yet frantic. After the ball bounced free in the the penalty area, Jack Colback cleared Bale’s shot off the line before the defender got a toe on Aaron Lennon’s rebound to deflect the ball on to the post.
Bale then twisted Colback inside out but his powerful right-footed shot was saved by Mignolet as the Sunderland goalkeeper raced off his line.
With 15 minutes to go, the visitors were reduced to 10 men and Paolo Di Canio could have no complaints. Vaughan, already booked for a foul on Scott Parker, lunged in to a late challenge on Aaron Lennon and this time Marriner made the right decision.
Then, as the clock ticked down, Bale produced yet another moment of magic in a sparkling individual season, but it was not enough to clinch a place in the Champions League.