Late Bale winner settles final game of 2012-13.
Gareth Bale proved to be the difference as the Welshman netted an 89th-minute winner to see off battling Sunderland at White Hart Lane on the final day of the 2012-13 campaign.
A patched-up visiting side held out under sustained pressure until the dying moments when Bale, the PFA Player of the Season, found the net with a dipping effort from outside the box.
However, the goal wasn't enough to see Spurs qualify for the Champions League, with Arsenal taking fourth place after winning at Newcastle.
Andre Villas-Boas' side created numerous chances but were stymied time and again by the excellent Simon Mignolet, who rounded out the season with another excellent performance.
The brilliant Belgian could do nothing about Bale's late strike, which came after David Vaughan had seen red for a second bookable offence with a quarter of an hour to go.
Paolo Di Canio's visitors created a couple of excellent chances and defended admirably until eventually being downed by Bale's unstoppable effort.
Di Canio's side showed two changes from the draw with Southampton, with Connor Wickham and David Vaughan both starting in place of Phil Bardsley and Danny Rose - the latter ineligible against his parent club.
Meanwhile the Black Cats sported a young bench with six of the seven replacements graduates of the club's development squad.
Spurs began the day a point behind North London rivals Arsenal in the race for the final Champions League spot, and an inferior goal difference meant a win was vital.
The visitors, meanwhile, had been challenged to produce a fitting performance to close out the season having seen top-flight status secured in midweek.
Andre Villas-Boas' side made a bright start amidst a vibrant atmosphere, dominating possession without seriously testing Mignolet in the Sunderland goal barring a low early snapshot from Emmanuel Adebayor which was tipped behind.
The home crowd were baying for a penalty on the 20-minute mark when Bale went down in the box under a Seb Larsson challenge, but referee Mr Marriner opted to give the free-kick the other way and book the Welshman.
Spurs were incensed and upped the pressure; Tom Huddlestone testing Mignolet 25 minutes in with a blast from the edge of the box which was gathered by the Belgian away to his right.
But Sunderland's shape was good and, as the hosts' frustration ratcheted up, the visitors were presented with gaps to exploit on the break.
One such incursion almost resulted in an opener just after the half-hour as the visitors carved out an excellent chance following a neat lay-off by Wickham into strike partner Danny Graham's path.
The former Swansea man's low cross was accurate and Wickham connected well at the near post only to see the well-placed Hugo Lloris block the shot at close quarters.
Spurs hit back through the well-marshalled Bale, who sneaked into space to meet a low ball from the left but was denied by a super block from Jack Colback.
The Welsh dangerman then tested Mignolet with a powerful free-kick from 30 yards, producing a fine save from the Belgian keeper, who has arguably been Sunderland's best player this season.
Spurs continued to push and probe but couldn't break down a stubbornly well-organised Sunderland side, with Mignolet in fine form when the visitors needed him.
Both Adebayor and Clint Dempsey were denied to secure a 0-0 scoreline at the break, with Spurs again coming out brightly for the second period with Arsenal's game at Newcastle also goalless.
Villas-Boas' side should have had the lead within two minutes of the restart when Benoit Assou-Ekotto's low ball evaded everyone inside the box and eventually found its way to Aaron Lennon, who fired wide from a good position.
There was a break in the pressure when Graham stole in to force a good save from Lloris, but Spurs had the bit between their teeth as they launched more attacking raids.
A handball shout against Carlos Cuellar came to naught and, as the shouts died down, news filtered through of an Arsenal goal at St James' Park.
The Gunners' breakthrough didn't seem to deter Spurs, though, as Huddlestone blasted just wide before some desperate defending saw Larsson clear Lennon's shot off the line via a deflection off the inside the post.
Sunderland held the line as wave after wave of Spurs attacks broke over them, with Mignolet in top form again to produce a magnificent block on Bale after the Welshman got the better of Colback.
And the keeper was at it again moments later, tracking Kyle Walker's 73rd-minute shot and gathering well down low.
Debutant Billy Knott entered the fray for the final 15 minutes alongside Mikael Mandron, but their team's task became even tougher when Vaughan saw red.
The midfielder – booked in the first half – mistimed a challenge and was issued with a second caution, forcing the visitors to play the last quarter of an hour a man down.
But still the home side couldn't break through, with Mignolet stunning between the sticks and his team throwing everything in the way of the ball.
Huddlestone became the latest player to be denied when he tried his luck from 25 yards, while Adebayor twice headed over the top.
The hard-working Wickham was withdrawn two minutes from time in place of another debutant – Adam Mitchell – as Sunderland looked to hold out.
But Spurs did eventually break through in the 89th minute as a flash of inspiration from Bale proved the difference.
The former Southampton man took possession well outside the area and let fly with a rocket of a shot which dipped over Mignolet and in.
It was a tough way for Sunderland to round out their season, but the Black Cats can at least take heart from the way they battled throughout on the final day of a difficult campaign.
- Assou-Ekotto (Sigurdsson)
- Dempsey (Defoe)
- Parker (Dembélé)
- Yellow Bale
- Vaughan Yellow Red
- McClean (Knott) Yellow
- Wickham (Mitchell)
- Graham (Mandron)
- Mandron Yellow