Premier League - Brilliant Bale slays Norwich
Tottenham were inspired by a superb performance and two goals from Gareth Bale as they tightened their grip on third place in the Premier League with a 2-0 victory over Norwich City at Carrow Road.
Bale struck twice in the space of 12 minutes in the second half - the first a somewhat fortunate strike after excellent work from Emmanuel Adebayor, the second a quite brilliant run and finish - as Spurs capitalised on a post-Christmas fixture list that heralded disappointing home draws for Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.
Harry Redknapp's side will finish the year as London's highest-placed side for the first time since 1995 after a brilliant first half of the season and this victory at Carrow Road leaves them four points ahead of fourth-placed Chelsea having played a game less than their rivals.
Given the style and confidence with which they have amassed 38 points from their 17 games, it is not inappropriate to consider that - seven points shy of the top with a game in hand - they could consider themselves challengers to joint leaders Manchester City and Manchester United following another impressive performance that, eventually, left Norwich trailing in Bale's wake.
Those present at Carrow Road were treated to a wonderfully open first half which caught fire inside the first minute when Steve Morison chested the ball down 20 yards from goal and executed a dipping volley that forced Brad Friedel into a save.
For Tottenham, Bale and Luka Modric were the leading architects of the kind of pulsating passing football that has characterised a quite wonderful season for Redknapp's side to date.
On the half-hour, and after David Fox had a firm drive saved by Friedel, it was Bale who should have opened the scoring when closing down Russell Martin, robbing the ball from the culpable Norwich defender, haring in on goal and thumping an effort off target.
Martin was being given a torrid time by a fluid Tottenham attack and he was caught out of position soon afterwards by a magnificent ball over the top from Rafael van der Vaart, only for Adebayor to fall victim to a heavy first touch after sneaking in behind the defence.
With Modric prompting from deep, it was Bale who operated at the sharp end for Spurs and on 35 minutes he almost scored the opener when showing great poise to allow the ball to run past him while simultaneously shifting his bodyweight and then turning to fire a firm effort at John Ruddy.
With Norwich enjoying sporadic chances - mostly through the imposing figures of Morison and Grant Holt - Van der Vaart joined the party for Spurs when collecting the ball 30 yards from goal and fizzing an effort just past the upright.
Having been guilty of some inaccurate finishing, Tottenham were then left to rue hard luck just before the break when Morison tripped William Gallas as a Van der Vaart free-kick came in but was not punished with a penalty as referee Michael Oliver was looking elsewhere.
It remained an open contest after the break and Norwich were close to taking the lead after 53 minutes when Gallas fouled Andrew Surman on the edge of the box to earn a yellow card. It was Surman who took the free-kick and his curling effort flew inches wide of the post.
However, inside two minutes Tottenham were in front in wonderful fashion. Van der Vaart prompted the move with a purposeful pass to Adebayor, but it was the striker who took the credit for the goal as he executed some fancy footwork to retain possession before squaring to Bale, who snuck a shot under the arm of Ruddy.
Better was to follow on 67 minutes. Receiving a pass from Modric close to the half-way line, Bale gave a demonstration of pace and power rarely seen in the Premier League since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo by charging through the heart of the Norwich midfield and defence before lifting a delightful finish over Ruddy to make it 2-0.
Bale's intervention ensured the win was Tottenham's and with it the growing confidence that this season could be very special indeed for the North London side.