Agony and the ecstasy: Spurs pipped again by London rivals

Frank Dalleres
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But Tottenham vow to keep Bale despite European failure

TOTTENHAM manager Andre Villas-Boas insists the club will continue to fight off interest from Europe’s elite in coveted winger Gareth Bale despite failing to qualify for the lucrative Champions League.

Bale scored a spectacular winner – his 31st goal of the season for club and country – as Spurs won their final match of the Premier League season 1-0 against Sunderland at White Hart Lane yesterday.

But it was not enough to pip north London rivals Arsenal to a place in the top four, and entry to Europe’s premier club competition, as the Gunners held their nerve to beat Newcastle 1-0 at St James’ Park.

Chelsea clinched third place and extinguished the possibility of a play-off with Arsenal by beating Everton 2-1 at Stamford Bridge in a match that served as farewells for both teams’ managers, Rafael Benitez and David Moyes.

Bale’s finest season yet has increased speculation of a move to one of the Continent’s powerhouses, with Carlo Ancelotti believed to be keen to take him to Real Madrid if, as expected, he leaves Paris Saint-Germain for the Bernabeu.

But Villas-Boas reiterated his belief that Spurs will resist offers for the Wales star, despite missing out on the financial bonanza of Champions League qualification, which is worth around £30m and often more.

“I think so, I’ve told you in the past that’s the information that I have,” the Portuguese said.

“It’s very difficult to lure a player of this dimension away, because if you want to make things better next season you have to hold onto your best assets.”

Arsenal must still navigate a qualifying round before they can take their place in the Champions League group stage, but Wenger was relieved to have progressed to the competition for the 16th consecutive season.

“It means for us to be capable to play with the top teams in Europe. That’s what you want,” he added.

“It means as well that it’s easier to bring in players when you have a chance to be in the Champions League. Let’s not forget we are not in yet – we have to qualify and that’s always a very tricky round for us – but at least we have the chance.”

Outgoing Chelsea boss Benitez tipped his successor to inherit a squad ready to challenge the dominance of the Manchester clubs after ending his tenure with a win.

A first Premier League goal of 2013 for Fernando Torres and a 20th of the campaign for Juan Mata saw off Everton and Moyes, who is set to take over from Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.

“It has been a great experience,” said Benitez, who took charge in November and is expected to be succeeded by the returning Jose Mourinho. “Now we have left a good team, with good character. It will be good for the next manager because he will have a very good team and also I think the owner will bring more players, so I think this team will challenge for the title next year.”

Ferguson’s final match of a glorious 27-year reign at champions United culminated with a wildly entertaining 5-5 draw at West Brom, who scored three times without reply in the last 10 minutes.

On-loan Chelsea forward Romelu Lukaku scored a hat-trick, including the 86th-minute equaliser, despite only being introduced at half-time, in a dazzling cameo that took his tally for the season to 17 goals.

West Ham midfielder Kevin Nolan also scored a treble as the home side ensured a 10th-place finish with a 4-2 win over relegated Reading at Upton Park. Ricardo Vaz Te contributed the other goal, with Garath McCleary and Adam Le Fondre replying.

Fulham signed off with a 3-0 victory at Swansea, goals from Alexander Kacaniklic, Dimitar Berbatov and Urby Emanuelson ensuring they finished the season 12th.

Bottom club QPR’s miserable campaign concluded with a 21st league defeat after they lost 1-0 at Liverpool, for whom January signing Philippe Coutinho scored in Reds stalwart Jamie Carragher’s final game before retirement.

Managerless Manchester City, who had already guaranteed second place, completed a tumultuous week by slipping to only their second home league defeat of the season, 3-2 against Norwich, who finished 11th.

Relegated Wigan were held 2-2 at home by Aston Villa, while the day’s other game saw Southampton draw 1-1 at home to Stoke, who finished one place above them in 13th.