MANCHESTER, England: Gareth Bale produced yet another moment of magic to keep Tottenham on course for a return to the Champions League, while Wigan boosted its survival hopes in the English Premier League with a come-from-behind win at West Bromwich Albion.
Playing his first match since being named English football’s player of the year, Bale cut inside from the right in the 86th minute and smashed a long-range strike into the corner to earn Spurs a 1-0 win over former club Southampton.
“I saw the space open up and got a good strike away,” said Bale, who has emerged as one of the world’s top players this season. “It is a massive three points and keeps our Champions League hopes alive.”
The Wales winger’s 20th league goal kept the pressure on top-four rivals Arsenal, which plays Queens Park Rangers later, and Chelsea, which is at Manchester United on Sunday and hosts Spurs on Wednesday.
“It was a game decider, a great moment of individual brilliance to win the game,” Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas said. ““He is in a great run of form.”
Wigan set up its trademark late rally to avoid relegation with a 3-2 victory at The Hawthorns, keeping the team third-from-bottom but provisionally reducing the gap to Sunderland to two points.
Callum McManaman scored in the 80th minute to complete Wigan’s comeback after Arouna Kone and James McArthur had netted equalizers.
“We have worked really hard for two months to get us in the position where, with two weeks of the season left, we are still involved in two competitions,” said Wigan manager Roberto Martinez, whose team will contest the FA Cup final against Manchester City next Saturday. “If we stay up it would be like winning the title.”
Aston Villa took a giant step to safety as Gabriel Agbonlahor’s double earned a 2-1 win at Norwich, which is only three points clear of Wigan having played a game more. Newcastle is level on points with Norwich after drawing 0-0 at West Ham.
Man City dropped points in its bid to finish second by drawing 0-0 at Swansea, missing golden late chances through Edin Dzeko and David Silva late on. The deposed champions are now seven points clear of Chelsea after playing a game extra.
Already-relegated Reading earned some respite by winning 4-2 at mid-table Fulham, with Hal Robson-Kanu scoring twice for the visitors in Nigel Adkins’ first win as Reading manager.
Bale was having a quiet game by his high standards until he burst into life with four minutes remaining, arrowing in a low shot that saw White Hart Lane erupting and adding more value to his price tag.
It was Bale’s eighth winning goal this campaign and he is almost carrying Spurs on his own as they jostle with Arsenal and Chelsea for the two Champions League spots behind the Manchester clubs. Bale also won the young player of the year as well as the football writer’s Player of the Year award — the first time a player has won all three accolades since Cristiano Ronaldo in 2007.
Gignac scores twice as OM delays PSG’s title celebrations
Olympique Marseille made a giant step toward a Champions League spot on Saturday as Andre-Pierre Gignac’s double earned them a 2-1 home win against Bastia and delayed arch rivals Paris St. Germain’s Ligue 1 title celebrations.
Second-placed OM have 67 points with three games left and trail PSG, who play their game in hand against Valenciennes on Sunday, by six points.
Marseille, who had Mathieu Valbuena to thank for two assists, lead third-placed Olympique Lyon by seven points before the seven-times champions travel to Nancy on Sunday, while fourth-placed St. Etienne lag eight points behind OM. The top two Ligue 1 teams qualify directly for the Champions League group stage while the third-placed team go into the third preliminary round.
At the Stade Velodrome, OM got off to a brilliant start as Gignac collected Valbuena’s through ball and chipped the ball past Mickael Landreau in the 12th minute.
Bastia equalized one minute into the second half when Florian Thauvin beat Steve Mandanda with a fine 25-meter shot.
Landreau tipped away Morgan Amalfitano’s rising shot over the bar and denied Jordan Ayew from just inside the box as the visitors held firm.
Nine minutes from time, however, Gignac was again at the receiving end of a Valbuena long pass and fired past Landreau.
Leverkusen clinch Champions League place, drama for Bremen Bayer Leverkusen made sure of a top-three Bundesliga finish and a place in next season’s Champions League group stage with a 2-0 win at Nuremberg yesterday.
Werder Bremen’s troubles continued as they squandered a two-goal lead in the last five minutes and were held 2-2 at home by Hoffenheim in a relegation battle.
Aaron Hunt converted a penalty awarded after only 25 seconds and Kevin de Bruyne made it 2-0 in less than half an hour for 14th-placed Bremen, only for two late goals from Sven Schipplock to stun the home crowd.
Greuther Fuerth, already relegated, won 2-0 at VfB Stuttgart. Hanover 96 and Mainz 05 drew 2-2 and fifth-placed Eintracht Frankfurt beat Fortuna Duesseldorf 3-1.