Two, second-half strikes from Gareth Bale once again proved that certain, individual talents don’t half count at this level as the Canaries slipped to a 2-0 home defeat against third-placed Spurs.
The defending wasn’t of the highest order in either case as Bale grabbed goals No7 and No8 of the campaign, but the little dink over a helpless John Ruddy for the killer second on 67 minutes was straight out of the top drawer – right up there with Robin van Persie’s similar finish for Spurs’ North London neighbours back in November.
Given the talents that such sides can field against the likes of a Norwich, it only takes one to play up to his obvious potential for teams less blessed to struggle. Tonight it was Bale grabbing all the headlines as Scott Parker, Luka Modric and Emmanuel Adebayor merely added the supporting cast.
“We never disgraced ourselves, but Gareth Bale is a top class player – he really is,” admitted City boss Paul Lambert afterwards.
“I saw that last season when he destroyed Inter Milan and they are a top, top side. They’ve got players there that can change a game with a flip of a coin.
“But as I say I thought we gave it everything we’ve got and we’ve given ourselves a fighting chance with the start that we made.”
Lambert also had a word of praise for Adam Drury – called in at the last minute after Marc Tierney pulled up with a groin strain in training.
“Adam’s a great pro and considering the few games that he’s played this season, he did excellent.”
Drury’s return was one of two changes Lambert was forced into pre-match with Kyle Naughton sitting out the game against his full-time employers. In came Ritchie de Laet at right-back.
The game’s early exchanges found Spurs enjoying a wealth of possession and territorial advantage if without ever unduly testing John Ruddy. There was, however, a sense that – for now – the visitors were just cruising along in second.
Skipper Grant Holt was, as ever, the one to ruffle feathers and knock anyone in a white shirt firmly out of their stride.
In fairness to the Canaries, they weathered the early storm well and for the mid part of the first-half would camp themselves firmly in the Spurs half. Snappier in the tackle and more forceful in the challenge, City were more than holding their own – even if clear-cut opportunities remained at a premium.
Russell Martin’s heart was in his mouth just before the half-hour mark when his error allowed the ever-dangerous Bale to nick in through the inside-left channel; it returned to his chest moments later as Wales’ great white hope for once blazed high and wide of Ruddy’s right upright.
Five minutes later and Bale got another chance as Spurs finally clicked into third gear. This time, however, the City keeper proved his equal with a smart save in front of his right-hand post. Warning had, however, been served. He was in the mood.
At the other end, Steve Morison would loft a 34th minute lob two-yards wide of Brad Friedel’s left-hand post as the Canaries continued to fight fire with fire. Come the interval and 0-0 was probably a fair reflection on both counts – in the neither team had really done enough to merit a lead nor had either offered a finish worthy of one.
Andrew Surman came the closest to breaking the deadlock seven minutes after the re-start. Having drawn William Gallas into a clumsy challenge inside his own ‘D’, the City midfielder then swept the resulting free-kick little more than a foot wide.
Three minutes later, however, and it was Spurs who drew first blood.
Once again, it wasn’t big or clever deep in the City penalty area as Adebayor was allowed to feed an unmarked Bale.
Stood alone on the penalty spot, it wasn’t the sweetest of strikes from the Welsh international, but it still had enough to squeeze beneath Ruddy. It was a poor way to concede a goal – and made all the more galling for the home faithful for the robust manner in which they had defended for the first 54 minutes.
A hamstring injury to a struggling de Laet found Martin returning to his former full-back haunts as Leon Barnett partnered Zak Whitbread. The Belgian cut a disconsolate figure as he walked slowly back towards the dressing room; his season would be back on hold again.
By then Bale had doubled Spurs’ advantage. Adebayor dragged the newly-arrived Barnett out to right and with the door now banging wide open, Bale strode purposefully forward from his own half and as Ruddy and Whitbread desperately sought to close him down, so the silkiest of clips over the spread-eagled keeper ended the contest.
Substitute Anthony Pilkington would add greater width and service before the end, but in reality Spurs had merely proved why they are third in the Premier League and Saturday’s home clash with Fulham will do more to dictate the fate of Norwich’s season than an evening playing host to Gareth Bale.