Brilliant Bale is too good for Norwich City
Norwich City 0, Tottenham Hotspur 2: World class talent Gareth Bale proved a Norwich City heart-breaker at Carrow Road last night.
The reigning PFA player-of-the-year finally ended City's brave resistance early in the second half after Paul Lambert's side had earlier repelled the title-chasing Londoners.
Bale slotted Emmanuel Adebayor's pass before treating the home fans and a global television audience to his now customary heart-shaped salute. The Welshman served up an encore 12 minutes later with the sort of composed finish that underlines his reputation as one of the best talents in the British game.
Adam Drury was the surprise selection for the Canaries, with the long serving defender named in place of Marc Tierney, who damaged a groin in training on Monday. Ritchie De Laet was also restored on the opposite flank following his recent back trouble to deputise for Kyle Naughton, who was suspended against his parent club.
Harry Redknapp was able to name Luka Modric in his starting line-up after the Croatian came through a vigorous pre-match fitness test. Modric was harnessed with Bale and Rafael Van der Vaart in a potent attacking midfield unit counter-balanced by skipper Scott Parker and Sandro.
Steve Morison underlined his intent with a dipping half volley inside the opening minute but experienced Spurs' stopper Brad Friedel collected under his own cross bar.
Bale's first foray on goal momentarily had City's re-shaped defence backpedalling but Benoit Assou-Ekotto's over-hit cross calmed home nerves. Spurs had already slipped smoothly into their cultured passing game, with the classy Modric setting the tone.
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Van der Vaart worked a sliver of space on the edge of John Ruddy's penalty area but the strike lacked any venom. Bale then veered off his left flank to line up Drury but City were able to clear behind.
Grant Holt had plenty to say to Assou-Ekotto when the Spurs' full back tumbled holding his face wide on the Tottenham left. Referee Oliver settled for an early word of admonishment to Holt, who made amends with a clearing flick from Bale's initial touch.
Van der Vaart, that tough-tackling Dutch artist, left his mark on Drury but escaped censure from the official with the home fans baying for a stiffer punishment. City's number three then required treatment to the left knee area after an awkward collision with England hopeful Kyle Walker.
David Fox profited from another heavy challenge on Wes Hoolahan to test Friedel again from range but the American's handling was secure.
The Canaries looked to be visibly growing in belief after weathering the early onslaught, with Andrew Crofts establishing a bridgehead in the opposition half to allow De Laet the security for a raid past Assou-Ekotto, but Morison was well patrolled in the penalty box by Younes Kaboul.
The powerfully-built centre back then met his match in a meaty tussle with Holt that triggered a moment of panic between Friedel and William Gallas from Morison's drilled cross on the right. Kaboul remained centre stage when De Laet was adjudged to have hauled down Bale, but the Tottenham defender horribly miscued the resulting free-kick.
The visitors' left flank was offering a productive seam of opportunity for Lambert's men, with Hoolahan finding Crofts before the Welsh international returned the favour as Redknapp's side were forced back for the first real concerted spell in the contest.
Bale predictably led Tottenham's riposte, finding holes in between City's defence and midfield, but Zak Whitbread's block took the sting out his dangerous left-footed dig.
City were momentarily reduced to ten men on the half hour mark when Drury's left boot needed emergency repairs before the veteran could return to the fray. Fox and Russell Martin then inadvertently teed up Bale who had cut out Martin's attempt to deal with Fox's square pass, but the Welshman fired over into the Lower Barclay.
Ruddy's presence was enough to force Emmanuel Adebayor too wide, with City again susceptible to the diagonal pass over the top before Bale buried his head in his hands when Ruddy parried his goalbound shot from another rapier Spurs burst.
Van der Vaart's whipped left footer brushed Ruddy's side netting shortly after as if to further underline Spurs had firmly reasserted their early territorial dominance in the shadow of half-time – Assou-Ekotto and Walker now stretching City fully in wide areas to create the space inside for Tottenham's attacking talents to prosper.
Redknapp's collection of stars emerged after the interval intent on continuing where they had left off. Whitbread's last-ditch block foiled Modric but Andrew Surman's central burst brought a mistimed challenge from Gallas that earned the Frenchman the first caution – and City an excellent opportunity to break the deadlock.
Surman pulled rank on Fox with a left footer from just outside the box that had Friedel diving full length but was a yard wide of the Tottenham custodian's right-hand post.
The visitors' weight of possession finally told on 55 minutes – and the source of the breakthrough came as little surprise. Modric's slide rule pass found Adebayor in a crowded Norwich goalmouth but with Martin and Whitbread attracted to the former Arsenal man, Bale was left unattended to sweep underneath Ruddy from 12 yards.
Walker lashed over after De Laet pulled up injured trying to track the overlapping Assou-Ekotto down the opposite flank and that was was the Belgian defender's final involvement before making way for Leon Barnett.
Bale punished City again on 67 minutes after Morison was crowded out at the opposite end.
He surged on to Modric's weighted pass, outpacing Whitbread before impudently lifting over the stranded Ruddy.
Lambert introduced Elliott Bennett and Anthony Pilkington for Drury and Crofts in a bid to launch a salvage mission, City boldly switching to three at the back with Barnett flanked by Martin and Whitbread.
Bale drifted away to the back post on 85 minutes looking to capitalise on any extra space left behind, but Adebayor's tame effort dropped straight to Ruddy.
Morison pulled wide foraging for work before tangling with Holt in an attempt to test Freidel from Pilkington's perfect centre.
Van der Vaart made way for the more defensively reliable Niko Kranjcar for the final five minutes before Martin climbed highest at the far post in stoppage time, but his flick header was deflected behind, with City still probing for a consolation.