TOTTENHAM suffered yet more Champions League heartache as they missed out on a top-four berth to Arsenal, despite yet another wonder goal by Gareth Bale.
Scorer: Tottenham Hotspur - Bale (90)
Referee: A Marriner
Referee Andre Marriner denied Tottenham two clear penalties before Bale fired home his 26th goal of the season right at the death to give the home side a 1-0 win over Sunderland.
Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas and his backroom staff were incensed at Marriner’s decisions. Sebastian Larsson bundled Bale over in the box, but the 23-year-old was booked for diving, while Carlos Cuellar clearly handled Clint Dempsey’s shot in the second half, but the referee’s whistle stayed silent.
Despite Bale’s heroics, Tottenham will have to settle for a place in the Europa League again next season, as Arsenal’s 1-0 win at Newcastle ensured that they finished in fourth position.
Nevertheless, Andre Villas-Boas does not believe missing out on Champions League football will mean Spurs will struggle to keep hold of Bale and their other leading players for next season.
He said: “No, I don’t think so. This has been an ongoing question. We have to keep our ambitions high, hold on to our best players. To make it better in the future we have to hold on to the best.
“Today there was another great moment of individual brilliance, although the squad in the second half was very, very strong, pushing for a winner.”
Looking back on the season, Villas-Boas said: “I think it was very good. To manage so many points and not make it means the level has come up and serves as a reference for next season.
“We did better than last season in terms of points, but not in terms of qualification and means that others have pushed on a level and next year we have to look at this year’s reference and improve our level once more.”
Tottenham started positively amid a booming atmosphere inside White Hart Lane. Emmanuel Adebayor gave John O’Shea the slip to latch on to Kyle Walker’s header, but Simon Mignolet tipped the Togolese’s shot around the post.
Bale charged on to Tom Huddlestone’s through ball and entered the box, but he collided with Larsson, who used both his arms to bring the Welshman down in the box. The home fans held their breath as Marriner put his whistle to his lips, but tension gave way to anger as the referee booked Bale for diving – a decision which enraged the Spurs bench.
The harsh call galvanised Spurs, who went close to scoring through Huddlestone’s 25-yard half-volley.
Sunderland stirred momentarily, Connor Wickham taking advantage of a mistake by Jan Vertonghen, but Hugo Lloris took the striker’s shot on the chin at his near post.
Huddlestone dallied on the ball, allowing Wickham to find Danny Graham, but Lloris pulled off a top save to deny the former Swansea man.
Tottenham raged against Marriner for the second time in the 51st minute when they were denied what appeared to be another blatant penalty.
The ball pinged around the Sunderland box and fell to Dempsey, whose shot was blocked by the outstretched arm of Cuellar. Marriner again paused for a second before waving play on. Tottenham continued to pepper Sunderland’s goal but Mignolet held strong. Villas-Boas brought on Mousa Dembele and Jermain Defoe for Parker and Dempsey – neither of whom was happy to come off.
Vaughan was then dismissed after picking up a second yellow for a late tackle on Lennon.
Bale finally grabbed the goal with a fantastic 25-yard curler, but it was not enough to ensure Spurs qualified for the Champions League.