The most alarming aspect of this thumping defeat for Aston Villa was that they got off lightly. Gareth Bale's first Premier League hat-trick lifted Tottenham Hotspur into the top four and condemned Paul Lambert's side to a second chastening loss in the space of four days, although the scoreline could, and arguably should, have been much more emphatic.
Tottenham were superior in every department against a team desperately short of confidence in the wake of their mauling at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, when Chelsea scored eight times to inflict Villa's worst top-flight result in their history. If that felt like a freakish defeat, the sobering reality is that Spurs could have inflicted similar damage here but for Brad Guzan's fine goalkeeping in the first half.
To give an idea of just how one-sided this game was before the interval, Tottenham were winning 15-1 on the corner count come half-time and were 11-0 up in terms of shots on target. Villa took 35 minutes to register a shot of any description and it was first-half injury-time before they won a corner. Although Villa briefly roused at the start of the second half, after Lambert made changes during the interval, normal service quickly resumed as Spurs sliced through their opponents and scored with embarrassing ease.
Jermain Defoe set the ball rolling with his 10th Premier League goal of the season and from that moment on it was about how many goals Spurs wanted to score. Bale, who had come close to giving them the lead in the 11th minute with a curling shot that Guzan superbly tipped over the bar, seized the moment and registered his first hat-trick since he struck three times against Internazionale in the San Siro a little more than two years ago.
"[Gareth's] up there with the best, he's showing tremendous skills and talent," said André Villas-Boas, the Spurs manager, who dismissed reports linking the club with Wesley Sneijder. "You recognise he is one of our major assets, for sure. He's going through an excellent moment of his professional and personal life and at the moment we are benefitting from that. His finishing is very accurate, he's been prolific in front of goal this season, so I think he's enjoying getting into those positions."
Villa were powerless to stop Bale on an evening when the biggest surprise was that it took Spurs 57 minutes to score. Lambert's callow team struggled to get out of their half at times and it was a damning indictment of how few problems they caused Spurs that Hugo Lloris did not have a save to make until the 87th minute. Villa have lost their way badly since winning at Norwich and Liverpool earlier in the month, and Saturday's home game against Wigan, who are third from bottom and only three points behind them, looks to be crucial.
Although Lambert claimed that Fabian Delph was fouled in the lead-up to Defoe's strike, the Villa manager knew that he could have no complaints about the outcome. He admitted "we rode our luck massively in the first half" but refused to point the finger of blame at the backline for the 12 goals Villa have conceded over the festive period.
"It's not just the defence, it's everywhere," said Lambert. "We're in it together, collectively you've got to stop it, not just the defenders."
Defoe's opener arrived after he ran on to Kyle Naughton's perfectly weighted pass before slipping the ball under Guzan. Moments later Bale added his first and Tottenham's second when he rounded the Villa goalkeeper, after the visitors broke on the counterattack and punished a mistake by Ciaran Clark. Bale strolled into the penalty area to add his second, drilling Aaron Lennon's pass into the bottom corner, and the Welshman applied the coup de grace in the 84th minute with a close-range finish high into the roof of the net after Gylfi Sigurdsson, a second-half substitute, picked him out.
Asked whether he had any concerns Bale could leave in the January transfer window, Villas-Boas replied: "No. In England there are no release clauses and a player of this dimension has a market value that is not obtainable to most of the clubs."