It's Free-kick Friday with a difference! Today, Southampton Academy graduate Gareth Bale celebrates his 32nd birthday, so we're marking the occasion by remembering his five goals for Saints...
This may have been the least spectacular of Bale’s quintet of strikes, but it was a big moment on the road that rescued a point for Saints at the Stadium of Light. Trailing 1-0 in the North East with the full-time whistle just seconds away, the 17-year-old sent himself forward for one last attack. When a long ball was half-cleared to the edge of the box, Bale was lurking with intent and struck a fierce first-time shot from 18 yards. It was impressive technique to keep the ball down, and Saints got the bit of luck they needed when the shot took a kind deflection past committed goalkeeper Darren Ward to grab a share of the spoils.
Three weeks after his Sunderland heroics, Bale was at it again with one of four free-kicks he scored for Saints. It’s tough to rank them, given the quality of all four, but we’ll start with this one at the KC Stadium. Taking aim from a very central position, 25 yards from goal, Bale stepped up and whipped the ball across his body, curling away from the goalkeeper. Boaz Myhill was duly beaten – no shame in that – as the teenager gave Saints a 2-0 lead on Humberside. Despite the hosts levelling the scores before half time, Bradley Wright-Phillips added to a Grzegorz Rasiak brace to ensure George Burley’s side ran out 4-2 winners.
A sign of things to come from Bale in his only full season in the first team, as he struck a stunning equaliser at Pride Park on the opening day. One goal down just after the hour, the young left-back took responsibility when Saints were awarded a free-kick in prime position for a left footer. Just right of centre, he picked his spot and sent a sweet strike over the wall that dipped just under the crossbar, again curling away from the goalkeeper, to level things up. The game would finish 2-2, but Saints – and their teenage sensation – were up and running with a statement of intent for the rest of the Championship in 2006/07.
This would prove to be Bale’s last goal for the club, and was his third in seven games as he really rose to prominence in the lead up to Christmas. Proving his set-piece versatility, this time he sized up the opposite corner. Maybe his mind was made up by the position of the ball, left of centre, and perhaps goalkeeper Paul Gallacher was anticipating a shot to his left given the reputation the 17-year-old had already established from dead-ball situations. Instead Bale’s shot started outside the keeper’s right-hand post and curled back in towards the target. Check out the camera angle that faces Gallacher’s goal to fully appreciate the remarkable flight it takes!
Bale had only made two appearances the previous season – still not bad for a 16-year-old, but his talents were still new to most inside the stadium when Saints were in action on home soil for the first time in 2006/07. However, having struck gold with the free-kick at Derby just three days earlier, there was a sense of anticipation when Bale stood over another dead ball under the lights at St Mary’s. This one was a long way out – more than 30 yards from goal – and had to be absolutely perfect, but the Academy graduate duly delivered. Another one that curled away from the goalkeeper, this one just clipped the inside of the post on its way in, and a star was born.