NORWICH, England ● Gareth Bale scored one of the goals of the season as the Tottenham Hotspur winger’s stunning individual effort salvaged a 1-1 draw against Norwich City on Wednesday.
Andre Villas-Boas’s side struggled to break down a stubborn Norwich defence after Wes Hoolahan gave the hosts a shock first-half lead at Carrow Road and it needed a moment of magic from Bale to save Spurs from an embarrassing defeat to a team beaten by non-league Luton in the FA Cup on Saturday.
With 10 minutes remaining, the Wales international took possession on the halfway line and surged towards goal, weaving his way past two defenders before blasting his shot into the far corner to conjure up memories of the brilliant Ryan Giggs strike for Manchester United against Arsenal in the 1999 FA Cup semi-finals.
Bale’s heroics left fourth-placed Tottenham one point clear of Everton and four ahead of Arsenal in the race to qualify for the Champions League.
It also gave Bale the chance to hit back at his critics, who claim the winger is often guilty of diving.
“It was nice to get a goal of that nature and it was important to get back into the game,” Bale said.
“For the people who think I am diving, Alexander Tettey caught me, but I stayed on my feet and scored with a good finish.”
Villas-Boas added: “Gareth Bale has such pace and power. In the second half we really put on a show. It’s a pity our first half cost us two points.”
Norwich were much improved following the humiliating 1-0 FA Cup fourth-round loss to Luton, but their winless run in the league has now extended to seven matches.
Canaries boss Chris Hughton made nine changes to the team beaten by Luton and the hosts started with purpose and energy.
Grant Holt blasted well over from outside the area before tumbling between Jan Vertonghen and Benoit Assou-Ekotto only for referee Neil Swarbrick to ignore appeals for a penalty.
Holt had another header scrambled clear by Hugo Lloris after Michael Dawson failed to clear and Norwich’s pressure paid off when they took the lead in the 32nd minute.
Robert Snodgrass’s cross reached Holt at the far post and he flicked it to Anthony Pilkington, who picked out Hoolahan to slot past Lloris.
That setback sparked Tottenham into life and Jermain Defoe played a one-two with Aaron Lennon before drawing a smart save from Norwich goalkeeper Mark Bunn.
Bale then troubled the Norwich defence with a low shot that Bunn saved well.
Villas-Boas sent on German midfielder Lewis Holtby, recently signed from Schalke, for his debut in place of Clint Dempsey with 19 minutes left.
Holtby had a fairly quiet introduction to English football, so it was left to Bale to come to Tottenham’s rescue in the 80th minute.
Collecting the ball on the halfway line, he raced by Alex Tettey and into the area, cutting onto his left foot to leave Javier Garrido and Michael Turner statuesque as he fired past Bunn.
Tottenham pressed for a winner and Bunn saved a swerving effort from Gylfi Sigurdsson and then used his feet to deny Bale.