Tottenham Hotspur have been consigned to fifth place after winning 1-0 at home against Sunderland only to find their Champions League ambitions thwarted by an Arsenal victory. For most of the match, the visitors' goal seemed to be protected by some sort of witchcraft, but although Gareth Bale finally put Spurs ahead very late, it was all for naught.
The first half was rather unfortunately marred by refereeing controversy. The best chance either had to break the deadlock came in the 20th minute, when Bale blew through the defence and was wrestled to the ground by Sebastian Larsson. Expecting a penalty, the winger was distraught when Andre Marriner, 40 yards behind the play, instead showed him a yellow card for diving -- a ridiculous decision that could have major ramifications.
There was another penalty shout later on, when Jack Colback blocked Bale's fizzing shot with his left arm, and Spurs would have felt rightly aggrieved that they went into the break at 0-0. But they were also somewhat fortunate not to be behind, relying on a superb save from Hugo Lloris to keep Connor Wickham's close range shot out following some excellent work from Danny Graham.
The second half didn't go much better for Tottenham. Adebayor saw Carlos Cuellar block the ball with his hand (penalty not given, of course, because screw the rules). Tom Huddlestone fired just over from close range. A series of implausible goalline blocks and woodwork hits kept the hosts at bay. Meanwhile, news hit White Hart Lane that Arsenal were ahead at Newcastle, a result that would keep Spurs in fifth no matter how well they did against Sunderland.
The routine was pretty obvious. Tottenham go up the pitch, get a corner, waste the corner, get the ball back, go up the pitch and so on and so on and so on, but they simply weren't finding the goals they needed. There was a moment of comedy when false news of a Newcastle equaliser arrived, but even had the Gunners dropped points it never looked as though Spurs were going to breach Simon Mignolet's guard.
But a moment of madness from David Vaughan gave Spurs some hope. The midfielder came across Aaron Lennon in full flight, wiping him out without ever getting anywhere near the ball, and was duly shown his second yellow card of the evening. Down to ten men, was there any way that the visitors could hold out?
No. Because Gareth Bale. As is his wont, he took matters into his own hands and fired Spurs into the lead 89 minutes. It was a 25-yard effort, and flew straight into the top corner. In any other context it would have been magnificent... but with Arsenal holding on at Newcastle, celebrations were muted. Eventually, the result was confirmed: Tottenham had failed to qualify for the Champions League.