Tottenham, Wigan notch crucial victories
MANCHESTER, England (AP) --Tottenham and Arsenal relied on decisive interventions by their flying wingers on Saturday to stay on course for qualification for next season's Champions League.
Gareth Bale produced yet another moment of magic to rescue a 1-0 victory for Spurs over Southampton in the Premier League, smashing home an 86th-minute winner from the edge of the area in his first game since being named English football's player of the year.
"It was a game decider, a great moment of individual brilliance,'' Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas said of Bale's 20th league goal of the season.
It wasn't enough to lift Tottenham above fierce rival Arsenal, though, as Theo Walcott scored the quickest goal of the campaign - after just 20 seconds - to earn the Gunners a 1-0 win at Queens Park Rangers.
Arsenal climbed provisionally into third place - two points clear of Chelsea and Tottenham having played more games than both its London rivals. Chelsea visits Manchester United on Sunday.
At the bottom, Wigan set up its trademark late rally to avoid relegation with a 3-2 victory, keeping the team third-from-bottom but provisionally reducing the gap to Sunderland to two points.
Callum McManaman scored in the 80th minute to complete Wigan's comeback after Arouna Kone and James McArthur had netted equalizers.
"We have worked really hard for two months to get us in the position where, with two weeks of the season left, we are still involved in two competitions,'' said Wigan manager Roberto Martinez, whose team will contest the FA Cup final against Manchester City next Saturday. "If we stay up it would be like winning the title.''
Aston Villa took a giant step to safety as Gabriel Agbonlahor's double earned a 2-1 win at Norwich, which is only three points clear of Wigan having played a game more. Newcastle is level on points with Norwich after drawing 0-0 at West Ham.
Man City dropped points in its bid to finish second by drawing 0-0 at Swansea, missing golden late chances through Edin Dzeko and David Silva late on. The deposed champions are now five points clear of Arsenal.
Already-relegated Reading earned some respite by winning 4-2 at mid-table Fulham, with Hal Robson-Kanu scoring twice for the visitors in Nigel Adkins' first win as manager.
Bale was having a quiet game by his high standards until he burst into life with four minutes remaining, arrowing in a low shot that saw White Hart Lane erupting and adding more value to his price tag.
"I saw the space open up and got a good strike away,'' said Bale, who has emerged as one of the world's top players this season. "It is a massive three points and keeps our Champions League hopes alive.''
It was Bale's eighth winning goal this campaign and he is almost carrying Spurs on his own as they jostle with Arsenal and Chelsea for the two Champions League spots behind the Manchester clubs. Bale also won the young player of the year as well as the football writer's Player of the Year award - the first time a player has won all three accolades since Cristiano Ronaldo in 2007.
Hull will return to the Premier League after a three-year absence after securing a second-place finish in the League Championship, ahead of Watford, on a dramatic final day of the campaign.