It was a moment that deserved a jubilant crowd, although Tottenham supporters can console themselves with the fact it launches a title challenge, and caps a glorious return. The familiar sight, and renewed refrain, came in the 73rd minute.
The instinctive expectation after a call like that is for the ground to erupt, as the Welsh hero headed in the goal that secured a 2-1 win over Brighton. There were cheers, but only from one of the executive boxes, which lent a degree of poignancy to a moment that would otherwise have seemed scripted.
Perfect from Bale, wholly imperfect from the officials.
If the new number nine’s fine winner made such sense from a narrative perspective, the same could not be said of the majority of the game’s key incidents. This was arguably the only goal that followed any kind of logic.
It was a game of so many eyebrow-raising calls that it was actually difficult to keep up with what the score “should” have been, although Brighton will fairly argue that they deserved more from the game. That has been one of the stories of their season.
The story of this specific game, beyond Bale, was that every major decision from referee Graham Scott looked wrong.
Harry Kane’s opening penalty should have been a free-kick out. Brighton should have been awarded a penalty of their own for a foul on Leandro Troussard. The excellent Tariq Lamptey should have seen his goal disallowed for a foul by Solly March.
Whatever about trying to keep up with what the score should have been, though, the end consequence is that Spurs keep up with Liverpool. Their first home win of the season puts them to within two points of the champions.
Normal service resumed, in a few ways – not least the opening goal.
It wasn’t just that Kane scored, or that he so emphatically hit a penalty in that pure manner that has almost become a guarantee. Kane has a clear technique for spot kicks, but not just for scoring; there’s how he takes them, and how he tries to win them.
It has almost become a common image now. As if sensing an aerial challenge, Kane will crouch when the opposition player is next to him, ensure contact and win the penalty. It is often the defending player – in this case Adam Lallana – left on the ground. You could even argue it should be a free-kick out.
And yet, there initially seemed no debate about the foul. The only reason VAR was looked at was to determine whether it was inside or outside the box. The penalty was given, and Kane took advantage, for Spurs to take the lead.
There were a few complaints about that, but not as many as about the use of VAR at the other end. Just minutes after Kane’s penalty, Brighton got a call of their own, when Matt Doherty appeared to pull down Troussard.
It seemed an almost certain penalty. Contact was clear. The official on VAR – in this case Jonathan Moss – insisted it wasn’t a penalty. Potter had his hands on his head in utter disbelief.
At half-time, after what had been an open first period, the Brighton players were vocal in their complaints about Scott’s decisions. Lallana meanwhile seemed to be discussing his foul for the penalty with Kane, the latter pointing to the ground.
Brighton did appear to be getting wise to it. Dan Burn later drew the referee’s attention to the exact same type of move, and Yves Bissouma refused to jump with Kane.
It was becoming a bit of a bad-tempered game, with a lot of hefty challenges, and the kind of complaints that were temporarily making the empty stadium sound as if it was full. The roars were that loud.
One came for March’s challenge on Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in the build-up to the Lamptey equaliser. It was a deserved goal for Brighton in terms of general play, but not in the specifics of the incident. It seemed a certain foul from March, with his only potential touch the slightest of nicks on the ball. That ensured it was a “subjective call” for Scott. After a long, long look, he went with the original decision. The goal stood.
It evened the game, and you could say it evened out the decisions. Brighton maybe shouldn’t have had a penalty given against them, and probably should have had a penalty of their own. The wider problem is that we shouldn’t really be talking about decisions “evening themselves out” in this age of VAR.
Bale at least ensured there was something purer to talk about.
Brought on as a sub for Erik Lamela on 70 minutes, he’d won the game by the 73rd, supremely heading in Sergio Reguilon’s fine cross.
You could question the Brighton marking, but you couldn’t question the emotion of the moment. As he celebrated, Bale appeared to instinctively shout “Vamos!”
Spurs are certainly on their way, and now properly talk of a title challenge. That, unlike so many of the decisions in this game, seems beyond debate.
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