A stunning second half strike from Gareth Bale was enough to help Tottenham Hotspur overcome West Brom in Sunday’s Premier League clash at the Hawthorns. Follow GOAL.COM on Twitter
The winger's long-range effort marked the long-awaited end of the game's goalless first two thirds, with Tottenham having been handed the momentum by Mark Clattenberg's sending off of Claudio Yacob in the opening stages of the second half.
The red card was shown to the Argentine in the 47th minute for spitting in the direction of Kyle Walker following an altercation between the two. The home side's reduction to 10 men did plenty to change the landscape of the match and Spurs eventually went on to exploit their numerical advantage in goals as well as pressure.
The result allows Andre Villas-Boas’ men to continue their current course for fourth place, and indeed takes the club to within a point of London rival Chelsea in third. West Brom, meanwhile, remains 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 lineup.
Spurs, meanwhile, opted for the same side which salvaged a point at Carrow Road in its previous fixture, with Michael Dawson captaining the team 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 home team'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 halftime approached, Andre-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 newly-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 defense, 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 to end the half.
No sooner had the second period got underway, though, than Yacob found himself dismissed after an exchange with Walker, granting Tottenham the onus to go on and secure a result.
A second half of sustained pressure duly followed, and after a long period of much away possession but little penetration, Spurs eventually broke the deadlock in the 67th minute. It was no surprise as to who was the man to do so, as Bale received a short pass from the onrushing Walker, shifted the ball past James Morrison and lashed a wondrous left-footed strike into the far corner of Foster's net.
After the long-awaited opener there was little doubt as to how the final result would manifest itself, the only real surprise being that the Spurs' continued pressure failed to increase their lead, with much foraging and a succession of set pieces from the visitors not enough to further permeate West Brom's back line.
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