GARETH BALE’S stunning last-gasp strike inflicted a final day defeat on Sunderland after a gutsy 10-man effort at White Hart Lane.
Bale’s 89th minute goal ensured Sunderland finished the season fourth from bottom in the Premier League table, despite an impressive rearguard display with a bare bones side in North London.
Despite a couple of strong penalty shouts for Spurs, Sunderland frustrated the hosts for long periods with a superb defensive performance and had chances either side of the break through Connor Wickham and Danny Graham.
Their task was made harder with 15 minutes to go when David Vaughan was sent off for a second yellow card.
But just as it looked as if Sunderland would emerge with a point, Bale won it in the last minute, although it wasn’t enough for Spurs’ Champions League hopes as Arsenal took the final place in the top four after victory at Newcastle.
Paolo Di Canio made two changes to the starting line-up; the first of which saw David Vaughan taking the place of the ineligible Danny Rose, with Jack Colback reverting to left-back in place of the on-loan Spurs man.
The other change saw defender Phil Bardsley left out as a disciplinary measure, after photographs emerged of him in a casino during the week.
Connor Wickham made only his third Premier League start of the season in place of Bardsley, with Seb Larsson dropping from central midfield to right-back.
Spurs made one change from the side which won 2-1 at Stoke City eight days earlier, with Benoit Assou-Ekotto preferred to Steven Caulker.
Tottenham had the first effort on goal in the fifth minute when John O’Shea misjudged a ball over the top, allowing Emmanuel Adebayor the chance to get in behind down the right-hand side of the area.
But the angle was tight for Adebyaor and his half-volley was comfortably palmed behind at the near post by Simon Mignolet.
Referee Andre Marriner caused consternation among the home fans in the 20th minute when he booked Gareth Bale for diving, when the Spurs winger looked to have been dragged to the ground by Larsson inside the area.
Against the run of play, Sunderland almost went ahead on the half-hour when Wickham controlled the ball well on halfway and fed Danny Graham down the right flank.
Graham returned the favour by picking out Wickham six yards out, but the England Under-21 striker’s near-post shot was blocked superbly by Hugo Lloris.
Bale tried his luck with a 30-yard free-kick, six minutes before the interval, but Mignolet was equal to it and routinely palmed it away low to his left.
HALF-TIME Spurs 0 Sunderland 0
Graham scuffed a half-volley harmlessly wide of the far post four minutes into the second half after he was picked out Wickham’s clever ball in behind down the right-hand side of the area.
The £5million striker went closer moments later when Wickham caught Tom Huddlestone in possession just inside the Spurs half.
Wickham fed Graham down the left-hand side of the area and he managed to bustle his way past Michael Dawson before unleashing a left-footed shot from the edge of the box which Lloris managed to block low to his left.
Seconds later, Spurs had what looked another strong penalty shout turned down by Marriner after Carlos Cuellar blocked Adebayor’s shot with his arms.
Sunderland somehow managed to scramble the ball away in the 63rd minute after Mignolet dropped the ball to Assou-Ekotto’s left-wing cross.
Scott Parker’s shot was blocked on the line by Colback and then the makeshift left-back again saved Sunderland when he directed Aaron Lennon’s rebound onto the post.
As Spurs began to tighten the noose, Mignolet denied Bale in the 72nd minute after the Welshman collected Jan Vertonghen’s ball over the top, twisted and turned inside of Colback, but was then denied by the Sunderland keeper’s legs.
But Sunderland were reduced to 10 men three minutes later after David Vaughan was deservedly handed a second yellow card for a late tackle on Lennon.
Just when Sunderland’s gutsy effort looked like reaping a point though, they were hit in the 89th minute by an absolutely jaw-dropping strike from Bale.
The Welshman collected the ball on the right flank, 25 yards out and stepped inside debutant Adam Mitchell before curling a stunning left-footed strike into the far top corner.
FULL-TIME Spurs 1 Sunderland 0
SPURS: Lloris, Walker, Dawson, Vertonghen, Assou-Ekotto (Sigurdsson 83), Lennon, Huddlestone, Parker (Dembele 64), Bale, Dempsey (Defoe 73), Adebayor. Subs not used: Friedel, Caulker, Naughton, Holtby. Booked: Bale (20)
SUNDERLAND: Mignolet, Larsson, Cuellar, O’Shea, Colback, Johnson, Vaughan, N’Diaye, McClean (Knott 74), Wickham (Mitchell 88), Graham (Mandron 74). Subs not used: Westwood, Marrs, Ferguson, Harrison. Booked: McClean (38), Vaughan (52), Mandron (79). Sent off: Vaughan (75)