Andre Villas-Boas' hopes of securing Champions League football next season were given a boost with a much-deserved three points against the BaggiesGareth Bale was enough to help Tottenham Hotspur overcome West Brom in Sunday’s Premier League clash at the Hawthorns.
The winger's long-range effort marked an end of the game's goalless first two thirds, with the visitors having been handed the momentum after Mark Clattenberg sent off Goran Popov in the opening stages of the second half.
The red card was shown to the Macedonian in the 47th minute for spitting in the direction of Kyle Walker following an altercation between the two. The hosts' reduction to ten men did plenty to change the landscape of the match and Spurs eventually went on to exploit their numerical advantage.
The result allows Andre Villas-Boas’ men to continue on their course for fourth place, and indeed takes them to within a point of London rivals Chelsea in third. The hosts, meanwhile, remain in ninth spot level on points with Michael Laudrup’s Swansea.
With Peter Odemwingie frozen out of first-team affairs following Thursday’s transfer drama, Steve Clarke made the unexpected decision to pair his two main strikers, Shane Long and Romelu Lukaku for only the second time in the league. Claudio Yacob and Steven Reid were also recalled to the Baggies’ starting line-up.
The visitors, meanwhile, opted for the same side which salvaged a point at Carrow Road in their previous fixture, with Michael Dawson captaining the side, and the free role granted to Bale indicative of the Welshman’s on-going transition from straightforward winger to a more varied attacker. January signing Lewis Holtby was again required to begin the game on the bench.
The opening stages of the match were a rather cagey affair, with the Baggie's forward pairing linking well, if sporadically, and midfield schemers Mousa Dembele and Chris Brunt both showing teasing flashes of creativity without being able to fully dictate proceedings.
As half-time approached, Villas-Boas was left ruing his failure to bolster his side’s striking options during the transfer window as Jermain Defoe succumbed to a twisted ankle and limped off the field to be replaced by Holtby, with Clint Dempsey filling the void left by the England man.
On a number of occasions in the opening half the unshackled Bale showed that he was adapting well to his free role, showcasing his explosive pace and trademark direct running with rousing surges from central areas. Twice his delivery from the right flank was cleared by the home defence, though the talismanic attacker came the closest of anyone to breaking the deadlock before the break, forcing Ben Foster to acrobatically tip his whipped effort over the bar moments before Mark Clattenberg blew an end to the half.
No sooner had the second period got underway, though, than Popov found himself dismissed after an exchange with Walker, granting the visitors the onus to go on and secure a result.
A second half of sustained Tottenham pressure duly followed, and after a long period of much away possession but little penetration, the visitors eventually broke the deadlock in the 67th minute. It was no surprise to see Bale do so, as the Welshman received a short pass from the onrushing Walker, shifted the ball past James Morrison and lashed a wonderful left-footed strike into the far corner of Foster's net.
With the deadlock broken there was little doubt as to the final result, the only real surprise being that Spurs' continued pressure failed to increase their lead, with much foraging and a succession of set pieces from the visitors not enough to further trouble the scoresheet.