London: Gareth Bale maintained his sublime form with a brilliant brace to inspire Tottenham Hotspur’s 2-1 victory over Newcastle United at White Hart Lane on Saturday.
Bale added to the growing belief that he is currently the best player in the Premier League with a superb free-kick to open the scoring early in the first half.
The Wales winger then bagged the late winner after Yoan Gouffran had equalised with his first Premier League goal for Newcastle.
Bale’s heroics extended Tottenham’s unbeaten run to 10 Premier League games and lifted Andre Villas-Boas’s side into third place, although Chelsea will reclaim that position with a win over Wigan later on Saturday.
Villas-Boas had admitted earlier this week that he fears Bale would be tempted to leave Spurs if the club don’t qualify for next season’s Champions League.
To achieve that target Villas-Boas needs Bale to remain at his best, so he would have been delighted with his winger’s early impact against Newcastle.
With just 75 seconds gone, Bale eluded his marker and fired over a low cross that Clint Dempsey couldn’t quite reach.
That close shave failed to shake Newcastle out of their lethargy and Fabricio Coloccini, caught out of position, conceded a free-kick in a dangerous area after a trip on Dempsey in the fifth minute.
Bale stood over the ball sizing up his options before unleashing a dipping strike that flashed past Newcastle’s wall and beat goalkeeper Tim Krul at his near post.
That was Bale’s ninth goal in his last 12 Premier League appearances for Tottenham and should have provided the hosts with the perfect springboard to finish off Alan Pardew’s team.
German midfielder Lewis Holtby, making his first start after his January move from Schalke, looked keen to impress, but his shooting was wayward as he lifted one effort over the bar and then shot wide twice.
In between those chances, Newcastle were able to establish a foothold in the contest and they drew level in the 24th minute.
It was a goal that owed everything to Newcastle’s recent recruitment drive in France as Moussa Sissoko combined with fellow new signing Gouffran.
Sissoko’s cross found Gouffran in space on the edge of the Spurs penalty area and the former Bordeaux forward’s powerful strike deflected off Tottenham defender Michael Dawson on its way past Hugo Lloris.
Newcastle were first to threaten after the interval, Steven Taylor’s strike forcing Lloris to save, but the Magpies suffered a serious blow when Gouffran was stretchered off in the 57th minute.
Gouffran went down after a collision with Kyle Walker and needed several minutes of treatment, including receiving oxygen, before being carried off, raising fears that he may have broken his leg.
Villas-Boas sent on Emmanuel Adebayor, back in favour afer his late return from Africa Cup of Nations duty with Togo, for the final 22 minutes.
But it was Bale who provided the game’s defining moment in the 78th minute.
After holding off Taylor on the halfway line, Bale exploded away from Coloccini with his trademark burst of pace before smashing a low strike past the exposed Krul.
Newcastle had a chance to rescue a point deep into stoppage time but Shola Ameobi’s close-range effort was turned away by Lloris.