Blistering Bale Keeps Wolf From The Door

4 min read
by Ewan Flynn

By the time Tottenham take to the field against Wolfsberger again next Wednesday, the Europa League may well have become their top priority.

Gareth Bale turned on the style as Spurs overcame their recent domestic woes by making light work of Wolfsberger AC.

Playing at the Puskas Arena in Budapest due to Covid 19 restrictions, the Austrians – the lowest-ranked remaining team in the Europa League – looked ill at ease from the kick-off. Tottenham were immediately able to bypass an enthusiastic but haphazard press and came close to opening the scoring within six minutes.

Receiving the ball just inside the Wolfsberger half, Heung-min Son found only one defender obstructing his route to the goal. The forward drove towards the penalty area, cutting on to his left foot and curling a shot narrowly wide of Alexander Kofler’s far post.

Despite this near miss, the Wolfsberger back-line slavishly continued to push up the pitch – the perceptive Toby Alderweireld was soon taking every opportunity to drop long passes in behind them. Dele Alli has long appreciated the Belgian’s ability to deliver from deep – and in the twelfth minute, he chested down a raking pass to the edge of the box for Son. As he wound up a shot, the ball was taken off the Korean’s toe by a defender but broke loose to Lucas Moura.

An incisive switch of play found Matt Doherty in space on the right-wing. The full-back slipped a pass into the channel for the galloping Gareth Bale, who instantly crossed for Son at the near post. The forward guided his plunging header expertly home beyond Kofler.

Alli, making his first start since Tottenham’s Third Round FA Cup tie against Marine, was at his impudent best in the first twenty minutes. One delicious nutmeg on the byline set him through on goal, where he tried to repeat the trick on Kofler from an acute angle. The keeper just managed to close his legs in time to divert the ball to safety.

Tottenham’s second on 27 minutes was another goal crafted on the right-wing. Doherty – recognising that the Wolfsberger defence could not cope with Bale – again steered a ball along the side of the box for the Welshman. Bale shaped as if he were to cross first-time again, but having sold Scherzer the dummy, chopped back on to his left foot before hammering the ball beyond the helpless Kofler. This, at last, was the Gareth Bale that so captivated Spurs fans during his first spell at the club.

Wolfsberger almost immediately halved the deficit as Tottenham’s own defensive deficiencies – so apparent during a run of five defeats in their last six matches – were laid bare. Having failed to decisively clear a rare forward foray from the Austrians, Novak was permitted sufficient time to whip a right-wing cross into the heart of the Spurs area. Dario Vitzinger eluded both Tottenham centre-halves and planted a firm header goalwards.

His captain Michael Liendl had already raised an arm in celebration when – somehow – Hugo Lloris was able to thrust out his right hand and tip the ball on to the bar. It was a magnificent save from a goalkeeper who – despite recent difficulties – remains one of the finest shot-stoppers in world football.

With little over half an hour played in this first leg tie, Spurs appeared to seal their place in the last 16 of the Europa League. Kofler’s weak clearance from a backpass barely reached the halfway line, where Harry Winks quickly set Lucas Moura away on the left. The terrified Wolfsberger rearguard backed off as he sped towards goal. Two quick dips of the shoulder presented a shooting chance from twelve yards, which the Brazilian adroitly buried in the bottom corner.

Three goals to the good, Jose Mourinho afforded the indefatigable Son a rare rest at half time, replacing the forward with Carlos Vinicius. The substitute striker might have made an immediate impact. Had he gambled that Bale’s low strike, arrowed towards the bottom corner, would be parried by Kofler, he would have had a tap in.

But just when it looked like the second period would be a continuation of the first, Spurs gifted Wolfsberger a way back into the match. Eric Dier rattled a testing ball into Moussa Sissoko on the edge of the Spurs box. The Frenchman took a heavy touch, piquing the alert Wernitznig’s interest, and then compounded his error by stepping across the Austrian and conceding a needless penalty. Liendl, following a stuttering run-up, made no mistake from the spot.

Imbued with a belief totally absent from their first-half display, Wolfsberger began to make regular inroads as Tottenham’s intensity dipped. Mourinho responded by replacing Moura and Bale with Bergwijn and Lamela – but before either could spark Spurs, his side came perilously close to conceding another. A slick move down the right of the Tottenham defence saw Liendl escape into the box. His cut-back to the penalty spot was met emphatically by Wernitznig, whose shot crashed down onto the goal line from the underside of the crossbar.

Hojbjerg and Ndombele were soon summoned by Mourinho to see the game through, replacing Sissoko and Alli. With their introduction, Tottenham regained control and, at the death, even managed to add a final flourish. Doherty pinched the ball in the Wolfsberger half before releasing Hojbjerg on the right-wing. The Dane dug out a centre that Lamela flicked towards the back post.

There jabbing out a leg was Vinicius to ensure that Spurs will carry a three-goal lead into the second leg. Before then, Spurs face West Ham in a game that will determine whether Jose Mourinho’s side maintain any realistic hope of a top-four Premier League finish. By the time Tottenham take to the field against Wolfsberger again next Wednesday, the Europa League may well have become their top priority.

All views and opinions expressed in this article are the views and opinions of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of The Fighting Cock. We offer a platform for fans to commit their views to text and voice their thoughts. Football is a passionate game and as long as the views stay within the parameters of what is acceptable, we encourage people to write, get involved and share their thoughts on the mighty Tottenham Hotspur.

Freelance football writer for When Saturday Comes The Blizzard and FourFourTwo. Author of We Are Sunday League

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