Tottenham Hotspur: With Gareth Bale Misfiring, Spurs Become One-Moment Team

Michael CummingsWorld Football Lead WriterFebruary 21, 2013

LYON, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 21:  Mousa Dembele of Spurs celebrates his goal with team mates during the UEFA Europa League Round of 32, second leg match between Olympique Lyonnais and Tottenham Hotspur FC at Stade de Gerland on February 21, 2013 in Lyon, France.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

One-man team? Not this time.

Up against European elimination in the heart of France on Thursday night, Tottenham Hotspur became a one-moment team.

For 89 minutes of their UEFA Europa League Round of 32 clash with Lyon, Spurs sputtered and fluttered, firing blanks and fizzling out against an organized and dedicated French resistance. And then, with elimination all but assured, a moment of brilliance made all the difference.

Moussa Dembele rifled a 90th-minute equalizer past Remy Vercoutre, at once cancelling out Maxime Gonalons' first-half opener and securing an unlikely 1-1 away draw.

Tottenham had toiled fruitlessly all night, finding only frustration against an imperious defensive display from Remi Garde's Lyon. With Welsh winger Gareth Bale, lately labelled a one-man wrecking crew, failing to find the net, Spurs predictably stuttered.

But instead of one man, Spurs' good fortune came down to one moment this time. With progress now secured, Andre Villas-Boas' men will add a last-16 clash against Inter Milan to the Premier League top-four challenge.

There was, of course, reason for the one-man Spurs slur. Heading into Thursday's match, Bale had scored six goals in his past four games, with both numbers coincidentally corresponding to Tottenham's entire offensive output during the same span.

But Bale could be considered only part of the formula that had produced a run of just one defeat in Tottenham's last 13 matches in all competitions. And yet, as Bale struggled to impose his will on the match early, it was perhaps little surprise that his teammates followed suit.

A day after AC Milan absorbed Barcelona's possession and pressure in an upset 2-0 Champions League win, Lyon took a similar tack against Tottenham. Spurs spread possession throughout the field but failed to penetrate Lyon's back line during a disappointing first 45 minutes.

And yet both Bale and Tottenham had their moments. The 23-year-old won a corner in the 41st minute after a ridiculous 60-yard run and stunning show of athleticism. Moments later, Vercoutre pushed Lewis Holtby's shot onto the post as Spurs saw their best chance of the half narrowly miss.

After the break, Bale volleyed wide and shot directly at Vercoutre from a long-distance free kick. As it became more and more clear that Bale would not repeat his two-goal heroics from this tie's first leg, it looked less and less likely Tottenham would go through.

As the moments ticked away, first-year manager Villas-Boas was seeming more eerily prophetic.

"Do Barcelona rely on Lionel Messi? Do Real Madrid rely on Cristiano Ronaldo? I don't think so," he had said before the match (via Daily Telegraph). "But the great players have to make the difference. They are the stars and Gareth has been magnificent this season. We are fortunate to have players who can be decisive on those moments."

Except that Bale wasn't that player this time.

Coincidentally, with first-choice striker Jermain Defoe injured and European survival on the line, Thursday was a night Spurs might not have minded Bale being a one-man team.

He wasn't, and the fact that Tottenham still advanced will bring joy to embattled supporters' hearts and encouragement for the domestic run-in.

For once, Bale couldn't control the proceedings, but for once, that might not have been such a bad thing for Tottenham.