The ball was played down the right side of the pitch by Matt Doherty for what felt like the umpteenth time on the night. Gareth Bale was there again, looking willing and sharp, running in behind his man.
The Welshman shaped to cross with his right foot, like he had to create Heung-min Son’s opener. But this time it was a trick. Bale suddenly cut back inside, sending Wolfsberger AC left-back Jonathan Scherzer past him like a child on a waterslide flying past a watching parent.
Now on his stronger left, Bale leathered the ball towards the far corner, the helpless Alexander Kofler beaten by the brute force of the shot.
Admittedly, the opposition was not the strongest, but this was a glimpse of the Gareth Bale of old, the super-confident goal machine that Spurs fans were hoping to see when he returned to the club on loan in September last year.
Unfortunately for them and for Bale, these glimpses of the real Gareth Bale – if we can still say that – have been few and far between. Despite the high hopes and adulation that greeted his arrival, it has been another difficult season for the man who left north London for Real Madrid in 2013.
The games he has started have been limited mostly to the Europa League and domestic cups whilst appearances in the Premier League
Whose fault that is has become a bone of contention. There have been suggestions in the media – which Bale’s Jonathan Barnett agent this week attempted to quash – that the Wales international is unhappy with Spurs manager José Mourinho, who he feels is not offering enough of a chance to gain rhythm and form.
Yet listening to Mourinho’s press conferences in recent weeks, it has been clear that the Portuguese is irritated with Bale. In classic Mourinho style, he has begun to imply that the player may not be doing all he can to make himself available for selection.
That was best distilled in the manager’s media appearance that followed Tottenham’s 5-4 FA Cup loss to Everton.
Bale – or more likely someone who looks after his social media accounts – had posted a photo on Instagram the day before of him training accompanied by the caption: “Good session today.”
Expect Bale hadn’t travelled to Liverpool with the squad to face the Toffees. Instead, he had told Mourinho that he felt an issue in his leg during that “good session” and that he would prefer to stay in London for recovery work.
Mourinho’s frustration was to some degree understandable. When there is pressure on him to play the Welshman, it is not entirely helpful to have Bale’s social media team suggesting that he is fit and ready when he had in reality ruled himself out of the game.
When asked his Welsh winger, Mourinho was spiky: “I was informed his desire would be to work with the sports science for a couple of days to strengthen that area where he was not feeling comfortable.
“That is the reason why he is not here. I don’t think it is an obvious injury, I would say he feels uncomfortable and because of that training session he couldn’t be 100%.”
At the time, it felt like Bale’s chances of being a go-to man during this spell at Spurs might be over; that he would have to content himself with a few more cameos before returning to Madrid come June.
Yet with his performance against Wolfsberger AC – which followed a moment of skill towards the end of the game against Manchester City that also conjured glorious memories – the hope of Bale playing a leading role in the rest of Spurs’ season has become real once more.
Tottenham travel to West Ham for a London derby on Sunday and Mourinho has said that Bale may get a rare start, suggesting the relationship between the pair might be salvageable.
“One of the reasons why he left the pitch by minute 65 was to try to have him available for the next match,” Mourinho said after the Wolfsberger tie. “By taking him off at that minute we managed to save him a few miles in his legs and I know the match is Sunday at 12pm, but I believe he has a chance to play.”
It would be a welcome change, both for Bale himself and supporters of Spurs and the Welsh national team.
This week, ex-Liverpool and Wales international Ian Rush told HorseRacing.net: “Gareth Bale is a world-class player and I think he just needs a run in the side. It’s very difficult for a footballer when you’re playing one game and then not playing the next.
“I just believe that he needs a run of games to help him get over his injury problems and get himself match fit.”
Harry Redkanpp, who managed Bale during the winger’s first spell at Tottenham, also weighed in earlier this month, expressing his opinion that Mourinho’s famous confrontational leadership approach may not be particularly well suited to Bale’s personality.
On talkSPORT, Redknapp said: “People say to me [Bale] looks like he’s not interested or he doesn’t care. If he didn’t care, then he would have stayed at Real Madrid earning the same money; he’s come here because he wants to play and prove himself again.
“He’s not the most confident boy in the world, even though he was up there for me in the top five players in the world when he was at Tottenham first and then Real Madrid.
“You’ve got to make him feel like he’s the main man and give him confidence. Surely, you’ve got to find a way and it’s the manager’s job to unlock that talent and get him going again.
“I’m sure it’s in there and it needs bringing out now. He doesn’t need to be bringing him on, taking him off and little cameos here and there. Let him play and give him a run.”
A place in the starting XI at the London Stadium would certainly be a good way to boost the momentum that Bale finally seems to be picking up.