Football: Rarely has a player experienced so many emotions on a single evening. Gareth Bale was creator, goal-scorer — both for and against his team — and villain all wrapped into one as Tottenham edged to victory over a Liverpool side they looked to have well beaten early on.
The Welshman showed his class in a frenetic opening, setting up Aaron Lennon for his side's opener and adding a second with a swerving free-kick shortly afterwards as the home side looked to drub the Reds just as they did in this fixture last season.
Bale's second half was just as memorable, but for reasons he would prefer to forget as he inadvertently scored an own goal to give Brendan Rodgers's men a lifeline and was then booked for diving. A genuine world-class talent, Bale nonetheless ended the match with his every touch goaded by the visiting supporters.
From the off, the Welshman tore into the visiting side, galloping past red shirts down the left flank as if they weren't there. After setting up Lennon, he added a second himself with a swerving Cristiano Ronaldo-esque free kick.
Whether his set-piece took a deflection of the wall or not sparked a debate of epic proportions in the press box with no clear conclusion being drawn.
What was not in doubt was that Bale's was a sensational performance, especially in the first half, and one that underlined the claims of those who believe his name deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as the likes of Lionel Messi and Ronaldo.
The second half was a tighter affair and Liverpool were more often on the front foot. They gained an equaliser when Lennon attempted to clear a Steven Gerrard header off the line, but only succeeded in finding the back of Bale's head and the ball cannoned in.
In the end, though, there was only defeat for the visitors and this encounter exposed their deficiencies in front of goal. For Liverpool had their chances and actually played quite well, but, in what has become a familiar theme for the Merseyside club, they failed to take opportunities when they came their way.
They now sink to 12th in the table, but will remain hopeful that they can plunder points in their next three league fixtures against Southampton, West Ham and Aston Villa.
Liverpool had lost three of their last four meetings with Tottenham going into the encounter and the home side set about continuing their recent dominance from referee Phil Dowd's first whistle.
Within two minutes, Bale called Reina into action with a 25-yard free kick, the Welshman's swerving, dipping effort eventually angling straight down the throat of the Spanish keeper, who beat the ball away. The left winger was in the thick of it in the very next attack, driving across Reina's goal and just inches wide.
Bale was stepping through the gears now and on six minutes he set up his side's opener. The exciting talent skipped past three challenges down the flank before crossing for Lennon for a simple finish at the back post. Pedants could argue that Daniel Agger should have cleared Bale's ball in — it appeared to pass straight through the Dane — but such details deserved to be forgotten amid a virtuoso display from a genuinely world class talent.
With not even eight minutes on the clock, Liverpool must have been acutely aware that they were in danger of being overun, especially with last season's harrowing 4-0 defeat here still lingering in the memory.
They nearly found an instant response. Luis Suarez, whose name the visiting fans sung heartily from their corner of the stadium, exchanged passes with English midfielder Jordan Henderson before driving low at goal. Such opportunities for the Uruguayan usually result in a bulging net, but Tottenham's French international keeper Hugo Lloris got down well to parry the effort away.
Liverpool really should have been level on 14 minutes. Suarez sent Jose Enrique racing clear down the middle with Lloris coming out to meet the Spaniard. The Frenchman arrived first, but the ball spilled to Henderson who was running alongside on the right side of the area. The former Sunderland man had an open goal to aim at, but inexplicably shot his effort wide.
Perhaps appropriately his folly was immediately punished. By Bale, of course. In what was a horror two minutes for Henderson, he compounded his miss by fouling Clint Dempsey on the edge of the area. Up stepped Bale and he swerved his shot over the wall and into the middle of the net, with Reina seemingly dumbfounded by the ball's movement (or a slight deflection off Henderson, depending on whose side you take in the great debate).
Liverpool seemed shellshocked. With better finishing they could have been level; instead they found themselves facing a two-goal deficit. Suarez, as he has all season, fought on and brought a save from Lloris from a tight angle. However the South American aside, it was difficult to see where else a Liverpool goal would come from.
Enrique was the next Reds player to try his luck with a quick turn and shot on 32 minutes, but his effort was straight at Lloris who held easily.
Four minutes later and Liverpool might have had a penalty and a goal in the blink of an eye. Steven Gerrard raced into the area collecting a pass from Suarez. The Liverpool skipper was bearing down on goal, but fell to ground under the close attentions of Mousa Dembele. The visiting fans screamed for a penalty, though replays suggested that the England centurion had perhaps gone too ground a little easily, while it did appear that Dembele won the ball fairly. Nonetheless the opportunity was not gone as the ball spilled into the path of the ever-alert Suarez who stabbed a shot at goal. It looked to be trickling in, but Kyle Walker put in an excellent shift to sprint back and clear the ball off the line.
Luck, it seemed, would need to intervene for Liverpool to score. Such fortune nearly came just before the break when Stewart Downing's cross from the left nearly led to an embarrassing own goal. Home captain Michael Dawson rifled his attempted clearance straight at fellow central defender Williams Gallas and the ball cannoned back towards goal and, to the relief of Dawson, just over the bar.
Liverpool came out after the break with renewed purpose, but struggled to create clear-cut chances. It was certainly no surprise when, just after the hour mark, Rodgers swapped Henderson, whose evening was certainly one to forget, with Jonjo Shelvey. Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas, too, made a change, replacing Clint Dempsey — wearing shirt number 2 despite his forward position — with Gylfi Sigurdsson.
The next real opportunity did not come until the 68th minute, but what a beauty it would have been had it gone in. Liverpool again conceded a free kick on the edge of the area and Bale again pinged a beautiful dipping effort over the wall. It beat Reina all ends up, but glided just a foot wide of the top corner.
Seconds later and Liverpool were back in the match — and in comical fashion. Gerrard rose highest to a Shelvey corner and headed past Lloris. Lennon attempted to clear on the line, but slammed the ball into the head of Bale who was standing directly in front of him. The ball flew back into the net and Liverpool sensed the chance to snatch an unexpected point.
Bale was indeed involved in everything in the match, good or bad, but he blotted his copybook when he appeared to take a dive on the edge of the area. Dowd booked the Welshman, whose reputation as a class player is perhaps starting to become a little sullied by his tendency to go to ground too easily.
Liverpool continued to probe and nearly had their equaliser when Suarez was found by Agger, who brilliantly kept the ball in play on the byline with an overhead kick. It fell invitingly to Suarez who hit his volley sweetly but it rose just over the bar. That was their last real opportunity and Tottenham held on to improve their record over the Reds to four wins in their last five meetings.