Enjoy Gareth Bale while you can, fellow Tottenham Hotspur supporters. Right now, he is the most special player in all of the Premier League.
A night that was largely about West Ham United saluting a local legend appeared to be ready to provide supporters with a new hero. Goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen was sensational throughout the second half of Monday's contest, being only beaten a single time thanks in part to a massive whiff from Spurs front man Emmanuel Adebayor. The unnamed man of the match heading into stoppage time, there was nothing Jaaskelainen could do about the final attempt on the West Ham goal.
If he really is leaving this summer, Bale is giving us all one heckuva farewell tour.
Outside of Jaaskelainen and Bale, Monday's game was all about momentum shifts. Things started out well enough for the visitors, when three West Ham defenders, most notably James Collins, gave Bale all of the time and space he needed just a few yards outside of the box. Bale squared up his favorite left foot and struck a far-post shot that skipped into the corner of the net. Spurs were up with less than 13 minutes off the clock, and a rout seemed possible.
Things began to go West Ham's way ten minutes later. Bale, not known for being greedy while in the attacking third, ignored better options and instead tried to double his money from outside of the box. He miss-hit the ball, however, and the shot fell right to the waiting Jaaskelainen. One minute later, Scott Parker slid into Andy Carroll inside the Tottenham penalty area. Parker was going for and got the ball, but not without also clipping the West Ham forward. The penalty was correctly awarded, Carroll made no mistake from the spot, and the match was level.
Back-and-forth action was the name of the game up through the break, with neither side having a real claim at a lead at the start of the second half. The half's first momentum change came three minutes before the hour-mark, when Gylfi Sigurdsson, who had been subbed on for a rather unimpressive Lewis Holtby, hit the left post with his curling strike. Adebayor, left unmarked and onside in the center of the box, was gifted with a free header. Perhaps celebrating too early, Adebayor nonchalantly nodded the ball right into Jaaskelainen's path, and the 'keeper brought the ball down with both hands before securing it underneath his body.
West Ham made Spurs pay about 70 seconds later. Some "you've got him, right?" defending from Michael Dawson, Steven Caulker and Jan Vertonghen allowed Joe Cole to slip free of the back line inside the left portion of the Tottenham box. Vertonghen hesitated before trying to close Cole down, and Cole bounced a shot that fooled goalkeeper Hugo Lloris before finding the far corner of goal.
After being robbed multiple times by Jaaskelainen, a break again went the way of the visitors. It began 16 minutes from time, when Matt Taylor successfully beat the Tottenham offside trap en route to accepting a through ball played into the penalty area. Lloris immediately jumped off his line and, amazingly enough considering all that Jaaskelainen did up until that point, provided the save of the match. The France number one was rewarded at the other end of the pitch two minutes later, when Bale swung a free kick into the box that bounced right in front of goal. Two West Ham players and Adebayor missed on their chances, but Sigurdsson slid in and equalized from the floor.
Spurs threw everything they had at the hosts in the 14 minutes that followed, but they couldn't find a breakthrough. Then came 89:33. Joey O'Brien fouled Bale in the midfield, but referee Howard Webb allowed play to continue. The ball ultimately landed back at the feet of the Welsh wonder, and Bale unleashed a 25-yard strike that you will want to watch again and again and again (unless you're a fan of West Ham or Arsenal, that is).
What happened immediately after the ball found the net tells you quite a bit about this particular team. Bale sprinted over the sideline and shared an emotional embrace with manager Andre Villas-Boas, who, according to certain reports that won't get the recognition in this piece, had "lost his players" just a few months after landing the Tottenham gig. The only thing AVB and company lost today was fourth place.
They're now third in the league table.
There's little point in trying to guess where Bale will be playing come next August. A lot can happen between now and then. What's important at the end of February is that Tottenham currently have the league's best player and London's best team.
See you Sunday, Arsenal.
Zac has been covering Tottenham Hotspur, Major League Soccer, RBNY, the USMNT and other soccer leagues for Yahoo! Sports since 2010.
- Sports & Recreation
- Gareth Bale
- Tottenham Hotspur
- West Ham United
- Emmanuel Adebayor