Gareth Bale scored a brilliant hat-trick as Tottenham shook off their Carabao Cup final misery and kept alive their Champions League hopes with a 4-0 win over relegated Sheffield United.
Bale's 36th-minute opener, a fine instinctive flick from close range, was scant reward for Spurs' first-half dominance, but though Heung-Min Son saw an effort after the break (52) ruled out for offside, the Welshman would strike twice more legitimately and emphatically.
Bale brought up his 50th Premier League goal shortly after the hour mark when he was set up by Son on a Spurs breakaway and hit a fierce third without breaking stride (69) to fire a further reminder of his enduring potency.
The Blades, for whom John Fleck escaped punishment after a VAR review after catching Giovani Lo Celso on the head, had twice built momentum before conceding but Bale's third goal ended their fleeting resistance and Son completed the rout with a brilliant curled finish 13 minutes from time.
Tottenham move up to fifth - for now at least, having played a game more than West Ham, Liverpool and Everton behind them - but remain five points off Chelsea with just four games left to play.
- Gareth Bale: I'm always happy when I'm playing
- Premier League table | Race for Europe - who needs what?
- Premier League fixtures | Premier League results | Premier League top scorers
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- How the teams lined up | Match stats
Tottenham: Lloris (6), Aurier (8), Alderweireld (7), Dier (7), Reguilon (7), Hojbjerg (7), Lo Celso (6), Alli (7), Bale (9), Kane (6), Son (8).
Subs: Winks (6), Lamela (6), Bergwijn (7).
Sheff Utd: Ramsdale (5), Bogle (4), Baldock (5), Egan (4), Basham (5), Stevens (4), Fleck (5), Norwood (4), Osborn (5), McGoldrick (5), Brewster (3).
Subs: Berge (5), Burke (6), Mousset (N/A).
Man of the match: Gareth Bale
How brilliant Bale kept Spurs in top-four hunt
Seeking a mood-boosting win after unrest over their part in the European Super League, renewed speculation over Harry Kane's future, and a Manchester City mauling that delivered a paltry 0.06 in expected goals, Spurs were dominant from the off, albeit against far inferior opposition.
A moment of early hesitancy between Aaron Ramsdale and George Baldock almost cost the Blades with Sergio Reguilon lurking, but Spurs were building patiently as Dele Alli - making only his third Premier League start of the season - drifted between central areas and the left flank.
- Tottenham made two changes from the side beaten in the Carabao Cup final, with Dele Alli and Gareth Bale replacing Harry Winks and Lucas Moura.
- Sheff Utd were able to recall Chris Basham to their backline, while Sander Berge was included among the substitutes after a long injury lay-off.
Kane's round-the-corner ball fizzed into Bale should have brought reward, the Welshman firing well over, and after Son drew a strong right hand from Ramsdale, Chris Basham had to sidefoot off his line to deny Kane.
Kane had further ballooned over and lashed a free-kick chance into Sheffield United shins but despite weathering the storm, the visitors were unable to make any rare forays forward count. David McGoldrick's pull-back from a dangerous area was straight at Hugo Lloris and Rhian Brewster - still to score for the Blades - shanked high and wide.
They were punished soon after when Bale stretched to elegantly lift a ball chipped into his path by Serge Aurier, the breakthrough belated but inevitable.
Fleck was reprieved after the interval after leaving Lo Celso with a cut that saw ice strapped to his head, the moment deemed accidental, but momentum the Blades seemed to have wrestled back through the substitutions of Oli Burke and Sander Berge was short-lived.
Though Son had been narrowly ruled offside from Toby Alderweireld's long ball forward (52), he was soon riding a Ben Osborn challenge from a spurned Blades corner before setting up Bale, who gave Ramsdale no chance with a powerful finish.
Aurier turned provider again eight minutes later, cutting inside after collecting Alli's slide-rule pass, and affording Bale a low first-time finish.
That sapped Sheffield United of any lingering fight and Son got the goal his busy performance deserved when Steven Bergwijn - on for Bale - robbed Oliver Norwood and teed him up to find the far top corner.
Kane, lively but wasteful, was denied by Ramsdale at the death but the damage was long done, Spurs earning a timely boost as they aim to keep the pressure on, and the Blades well beaten as the last whistle of a torturous season moves thankfully closer.
Man of the match - Gareth Bale
Eight goals in his last eight games: how Tottenham fans will be thinking what might have been.
Underused by Jose Mourinho, Ryan Mason had a hunch this might be the Welshman's night after what he revealed had been a bright week in training and how it proved. Six shots, five on target, three goals but Bale bristled with intent all night, relishing the freedom to roam with Kane, Son and Alli.
"Gareth Bale has been the jewel in Tottenham's attacking crown," said Sky Sports' co-commentator Andy Hinchcliffe. "He's given a movement and finishing masterclass."
What the managers said
Tottenham's Ryan Mason: "I thought Gareth was outstanding, his goals were world-class. No one should have doubted his ability in the final third; he's proved for a number of years he's one of the best in the world in those moments. He showed real commitment for the team and the moments he produced were outstanding.
"I think it's a conversation at the end of the season between Gareth, the club and his parent club. I'm really happy that Gareth's happy.
"I thought it was an outstanding performance. We've had a week to train hard and instil some principles. Most important was the attitude, the desire to compete and we paired it with moments."
On Fleck catching Lo Celso: "Absolutely it's a red card, no doubt. Looking at that once should be enough. I'm shocked the referee hasn't been told to have a look at it."
Sheffield United's Paul Heckingbottom: "We have to be at our best every week to get a result and we weren't. The first half upset me the most. It wasn't good enough. There's an anger at that first half. I don't enjoy watching that. The first goal is so passive. The second is a counter from our corner. The third is a giveaway in a bad area. We can't afford to give those players those kind of opportunities.
"When we came out in the second half, it was a much better attitude. It's an attitude and a mentality thing. Between now and the end of the season, it has to be a team that's willing to fight. It's taken its toll since the first lockdown and we've had a change in personnel. We need the fans back. But how we approach the final four games is important."
On Fleck: "There's no place for that on a football pitch but the VAR has looked at it and it's been deemed accidental and unintentional."
Analysis: Big decisions ahead of Blades
Sky Sports' Kate Burlaga:
Ryan Mason was coy when asked about a decision looming over Gareth Bale but more fundamental ones remain for the side his Tottenham team dismissed with ease.
Paul Heckingbottom insisted it was "business as usual" when asked if being confirmed as one of the names on Sheffield United's five-man shortlist to replace Chris Wilder on a permanent basis gave Sunday night greater significance than it might have had for a long-relegated side. But again, there was little evidence of fresh impetus.
The Blades have conceded 15 goals in his six games in charge and while the small sample size prevents wholly fair comparison with the man whose big shoes he has stepped in to fill, the stats-per-90 dip - fewer goals, shots, chances created, duels won - makes for concerning reading.
Heckingbottom has been hamstrung by injuries and a squad shaped to play his predecessor's system yet the Blades look a shell of their former selves; too passive, too accepting. The interim boss, who has admirers in the corridors of power, declared himself "angry" with his players' first-half display, but for short-lived moments of pluck, they were meek opposition.
An appointment is not thought to be imminent but the Blades' hopes of repeating Norwich's trick rest heavily on clarity, strategy. energy, direction. The board's next call is one of the biggest in the club's history.
Opta stats: Bale, Son joy; Heckingbottom woe
- Spurs have won five of their last six Premier League home games (L1), one more than they managed across their first 11 at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium this season (W4 D3 L4). Indeed, only Man City (8) have won more home games in the top-flight in 2021 than Spurs (6).
- Sheffield United have lost 27 of their 34 Premier League games this season (W5 D2), now the same number as 20th placed Norwich City suffered last season, whilst it is now the most the Blades have ever lost in a single Football League campaign in their history.
- Sheffield United have picked up just four points from a possible 51 available away from home this season, losing 15 of their 17 such matches (W1 D1). Last season, the Blades won more points from their first three away games (5), losing just six times on their travels in the league (W4 D9 L6).
- Ryan Mason is the third consecutive Tottenham manager to win their first two Premier League games after José Mourinho and Mauricio Pochettino, with Tim Sherwood the last boss failing to do so for the club.
- All nine of Gareth Bale's Premier League goals this season have come at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, the most goals by a player with 100% of them coming at a single venue in the competition in 2020-21.
- Tottenham's Son Heung-Min (16 goals, 10 assists) joined Harry Kane and Bruno Fernandes as one of three Premier League players to both score and assist 10+ goals in the Premier League this season, with Kane and Son the first pair of teammates to do so in the same season since Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sané for Manchester City in 2018/19.
- Gareth Bale scored the seventh hat-trick of his club career, three of which have come at Tottenham Hotspur (four for Real Madrid). The Welshman's other trebles for Spurs came against Aston Villa in December 2012 in the Premier League, and in October 2010 against Inter Milan in the UEFA Champions League.
- Paul Heckingbottom has seen his Sheffield United side concede 15 goals in his six Premier League games in charge - in the competition's history, only three other managers - Terry Connor, Billy Davies & Nigel Adkins (all 5) - saw their sides ship 15+ goals in fewer games than the Yorkshireman.
Live Premier League
Tottenham travel to Leeds on Saturday, May 8 for a 12.30pm kick-off, while Sheffield United host Crystal Palace on the same day (3pm kick-off). That match is live on Sky Sports Premier League.