The crazy thing about this game was that until the 78th minute, it was tight and forgettable. Then Gareth Bale scored his second goal and he could conceivably have finished with five. Tottenham Hotspur's man of the moment has the priceless ability to be decisive, to make things happen out of apparently nothing and the slickness with which he shifted through the gears in the closing stages was breathtaking. Rather abruptly, a spectacle was born. Newcastle United were shell-shocked.
Alan Pardew felt that his team had "contained Bale quite well" and the Newcastle manager was right, up to a point. The Wales winger had opened the scoring from a wickedly struck free-kick but, in open play, he had been frustrated. Pardew noted chuntering in the home crowd and Tottenham misplacing passes.
But such is the remorseless of Bale's threat that it is no good merely wrapping him up for almost all of the game. His second goal and the 15th of his season at domestic level was a bad one for Newcastle to concede.
Fabricio Coloccini looked the favourite to get to the ball first, after the Tottenham substitute Emmanuel Adebayor had challenged with Steven Taylor but Bale nipped in, turned on the turbo-chargers and finished past Tim Krul. In the blink of an eye, Newcastle were undone.
The action became frenzied thereafter and twice, Bale was denied by Krul. In between times, he blazed over an almost unguarded net with his right foot. He could afford to joke about that miss afterwards. Newcastle were left to lament a fine late block from Hugo Lloris that denied the substitute Shola Ameobi but this was Bale's day. With him in this form, Tottenham can press confidently to achieve their target of Champions League qualification. It is unthinkable to imagine them without him. "Barcelona losing Messi would be a disaster and Real Madrid losing Ronaldo would be a disaster so I think it's exactly the same for us with Gareth," André Villas-Boas said. "It was a great individual performance from him."
Villas-Boas has spoken about how Bale's quality makes him attractive to Europe's biggest clubs but the Tottenham manager preferred to talk up the ability of his chairman, Daniel Levy, to make player sales difficult. "Listen, there aren't any release clauses in English football," he said. "It's very hard to negotiate with Tottenham, as you know, and we are not willing to let our best assets go."
This fixture had looked set to linger in the memory only for the highs and lows of Yoan Gouffran, Newcastle's bargain January signing from Bordeaux. He scored his first goal for the club, a shot from Moussa Sissoko's cutback that deflected off Michael Dawson to beat Lloris, but he suffered a suspected broken leg early in the second half to depart on a stretcher.
The injury followed an innocuous-looking challenge with Kyle Walker but the extent of his distress quickly became clear. After lengthy treatment, he was given oxygen and carried off. "He's had an impact on his shin, which was a nasty gash," Pardew said. "It's just whether there's any bone damage, so he's gone for an x-ray."
A principal sub-plot was Adebayor's involvement as a 69th-minute substitute, after he had returned late on Friday afternoon from the Africa Cup of Nations. It had felt faintly ridiculous that he had been unable to make Villas-Boas' training session at 3pm, with Togo having been eliminated from the tournament last Sunday and his lack of preparation compounded the club's striker shortage. Villas-Boas had to rely upon his attacking midfielders, with Clint Dempsey leading the line, Lewis Holtby flickering in behind him and Bale marauding from the left. Fortunately, he could count on Bale.
Pardew's team had been loose at the outset, with Coloccini beaten by Dempsey 25 yards out and having to foul the USA international. Bale's free-kick was marked by precision and vicious dip. Newcastle, though, showed resistance. Papiss Cissé headed a yard past the far post when unmarked from Coloccini's lovely cross before Gouffran fashioned their foothold.
That was in the 24th minute and it came to feel as though the goal was the beginning of the end of the entertainment. Bale had other ideas. Adebayor comes home when he wants but it is Bale's capacity to score on his terms that continues to fire Tottenham.