Tottenham Hotspur boosted their chances of finishing in the top four thanks to a 3-1 triumph over Manchester City in a pulsating Premier League clash on Sunday afternoon.
It looked like their Champions League hopes would suffer a dent when Samir Nasri broke the deadlock in the fifth minute, with Spurs finding life frustrating for long periods.
But everything clicked in a seven-minute period in the second half as Clint Dempsey, Jermain Defoe and Gareth Bale scored fine goals.
Tottenham will now hope to push on and overtake at least one of their London rivals, Chelsea and Arsenal, while Manchester City must consider why they collapsed so badly in the closings stages.
Bale returned to the Tottenham starting line-up following an ankle injury, with Defoe named among the substitutes but Aaron Lennon missed out after failing a fitness test. Emmanuel Adebayor was given the nod to start up front against his former club.
Sergio Aguero was left on the bench for City as Roberto Mancini opted to go with Edin Dzeko, who scored four times in a 5-1 demolition at White Hart Lane last season. David Silva had been expected to feature after racing to recover from a hamstring injury, but picked up a knock in training and was not able to take his place in the squad.
Tottenham started out with a 4-2-3-1 formation but lacked width as Bale roamed centrally and struggled to get into the game. Adebayor was starved of service but did not help his own cause with poor movement, while Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson were well shackled by City and only Kyle Walker offered a threat from right-back.
Gael Clichy was still able to get forward himself down that flank for City, who defended well and had a more solid look in midfield with Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure. Dzeko failed to shine in attack for City but there was still plenty to admire about the rest of their forward play as Carlos Tevez combined nicely with James Milner and, particularly, Nasri.
The flow of the game changed after the interval as Spurs came out strongly and applied pressure after a tactical reshuffle by Villas-Boas which helped bring the best out of Bale and was helped by a trio of substitutions.
The disappointing performance of Adebayor made it almost inevitable that he would eventually be replaced by Defoe, and when it came the decision was greeted by a huge cheer from the White Hart Lane faithful. The England striker looked sharp from the moment of his introduction and showed his potency with a clinical finish. However, Villas-Boas' first move was a double change to bring on Lewis Holtby and Tom Huddlestone for Scott Parker and Gylfi Sigurdsson. Huddlestone's excellent passing allowed Spurs to get control of midfield and Holtby also impressed as both players set up goals, while Mousa Dembele also had more of an influence going forward and Bale helped pin Clichy back with his pace.
Mancini made an enforced substitution at the interval as Milner had to be replaced by Aleksandar Kolarov after picking up an injury. Kolarov's arrival should have helped City combat Walker and Bale but he failed to shore things up as Spurs ran riot late in the game. City's final two changes made little impression as Scott Sinclair and Joleon Lescott came on in the final few minutes for Dzeko and Clichy respectively.
Lee Mason was the man in the middle at White Hart Lane and he had a few tough decisions to contend with. Nasri caught Walker on the shin with a high challenge just a couple of minutes after opening the scoring but escaped without punishment, while Benoit Assou-Ekotto only received a yellow card for a wild two-footed lunge on Pablo Zabaleta early in the second half. Both men could have been sent off by a different referee.
There was always going to be a lot of focus on Bale and initially it looked like he would not be able to deliver the goods as he was understandably rusty after a spell on the sidelines. However, he found more space in the second half as he flitted from the centre to the right wing. It was a sensational cross with the outside of his boot to set up Dempsey for the equaliser and he then demonstrated his class with a cool finish to put the game out of sight.
If Bale was the star of the second half, then Tevez had dazzled for City before the interval with a series of lovely touches. His skill and movement was a constant worry to Tottenham and he helped create Nasri's goal with a lovely run and then pass in to the Frenchman, while he carved out a couple of other good chances. Unfortunately for City, they could not add to their lead and Spurs hit back in style.
The result brings Tottenham back to within one point of fourth-placed Chelsea, who drew with Liverpool in Sunday's late game. They are also just two points behind North London rivals Arsenal, with a game in hand, ahead of next weekend's trip to relegation-threatened Wigan Athletic. Spurs have three other fixtures this season they will be confident of winning, but the potentially decisive date in the diary is the clash with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on 8th May.
Manchester City fans will be looking first at tomorrow's game between Manchester United and Aston Villa, when Sir Alex Ferguson's men can reclaim the title with a win. They are destined to finish second so the big match left to play is against Wigan in the FA Cup final, but Mancini will not want his players to take their foot off the pedal at all and will be looking to show this was a mere blip when they take on West Ham next Saturday.