The look of pure glee on Gareth Bale’s face spoke volumes. It must have felt like old times for the Welshman as his teammates ran to mob him. Thrown on in the 70th minute and given the task of puncturing Brighton’s resilience, Bale had rolled back the years by heading home three minutes after his introduction, bringing to mind all those times he rescued Tottenham with dramatic late winners at the end of the 2012-13 season.
Perhaps it was not quite up there with the time Bale came off the bench to put Real Madrid on the path to Champions League glory with an overhead kick against Liverpool in 2018. Yet the winger loved his goalscoring cameo. After the breakdown in his relationship with Madrid, he was home at last: back in Tottenham’s colours and making a difference.
Tottenham had laboured for long spells. They had thrown away another lead, allowing Brighton to recover from a slow start and level through the impressive Tariq Lamptey. A third successive home stalemate was on the cards and the prospect of Mourinho questioning his side’s mental strength looked likelier than Tottenham mounting a title challenge.
Yet it would not be the same old story. Bale might be less explosive these days. But he has not lost the ability to find space and he was in the right place when Sergio Reguilón crossed in the 73rd minute, escaping Brighton’s defenders to score the goal that lifted Tottenham into second place, two points behind Liverpool.”I am going on Madrid’s website to see what they say,” José Mourinho said.
Bale’s first goal since returning to Tottenham was vital on more than one level. Mourinho has eased the 31-year-old in slowly and expectations were dialled down initially. In a season this weird, though, Tottenham have a chance if Bale can settle tight games. They need strength in depth: forwards helping Harry Kane and Son Heung-min.
Tottenham had faded after threatening to blow Brighton away. Early on the main threat came down the left. A smart interchange in the sixth minute ended with Reguilón testing Robert Sánchez, a 22-year-old Spaniard handed his first Premier League start in goal for Brighton after replacing Maty Ryan, and it did not take long for the visitors to crack.
It came from another burst down the left, Son released by Pierre-Emile Højbjerg. Son spun on the byline and although his cross was bundled away, Graham Scott blew his whistle when Adam Lallana barged into Kane on the edge of the area. Tottenham’s captain had welcomed the contact and Brighton’s hearts sank once a VAR review revealed that the foul had taken place on the 18-yard line. Kane sent Sánchez the wrong way.
Yet Brighton were an intriguing proposition: tactically flexible and dangerous despite the absence of Neal Maupay in attack. Midway through the first half Ben White, catching the eye in midfield, slid a clever pass into the area and Leandro Trossard, the lone striker, tumbled after being tugged by Matt Doherty. Potter, whose side have won once in seven games, was amazed that Brighton were not given a penalty after another review.
Brighton refused to become downhearted. The equaliser came when Pascal Gross released Lamptey, who beat Hugo Lloris. This time the technology worked in Brighton’s favour. Scott looked at the pitchside monitor and decided that Solly March had not fouled Højbjerg in the build-up.
Tottenham stirred. Lamela hit the post and Sánchez somehow stopped Joel Veltman from scoring an own-goal. Then Kane managed to hit the post from close range.
Mourinho had seen enough. Enter Bale, heading in a cross from another Madrid old boy, Reguilón. Tottenham, victorious at home at last, basked in the nostalgia.