Tottenham had three goals disallowed by the referee in a 0-0 Europa League draw with Lazio at White Hart Lane.
After the break Jermain Defoe slid home Bale's centre, only for play to be pulled back for offside once again - this time rightly.
Lazio, for their part, were well-organised in the first half, more cynical in the second, and looked happy to take a point from their visit to London.
It might have been better for the Italian side had Alvaro Gonzalez's stunning volley from distance dipped under the crossbar rather than rattled it as half-time approached, but they slowed down in the second half.
Lazio, with three Serie A wins in three, represented a stern challenge for Andre Villas-Boas’s side, and the manager responded by fielding a strong line-up, with deadline day arrivals Hugo Lloris and Dempsey both making their first starts for the club.
Honours were even in the early stages, with Lazio’s Argentine midfielder Hernanes threatening to take control of the match.
Spurs had the ball in the back of the net midway through the first half when Dempsey nodded in a cross from Bale, but the assistant referee raised his flag for offside. Replays showed Dempsey appeared to be level with the last man.
That sparked a decent spell of play from the home side, where they had the lion's share of possession, Mousa Dembele and Sandro began to impose themselves in the middle, and sent Spurs attacking down the flanks. Aaron Lennon, testing out Senad Lulic and beating him for pace repeatedly, was a real threat, but aside from one teasing cross, the possession failed to turn into chances.
Lazio waited patiently, and their best opportunity came from a moment of genius from Gonzalez. The Uruguayan latched on to a clearing header from Jan Vertonghen on the run, and his volley beat Lloris, only to come back off the woodwork with 41 minutes on the clock.
There were hints early on in the second half that the game would open up – Mauri could have fired Lazio ahead after being played in by Miroslav Klose, only for the ball to slip under his foot when he was about to apply a finish. Tottenham then surged upfield, and both Lennon and Dempsey had stabbed efforts on goal narrowly miss, as well as a muted shout for a penalty turned down.
But Lazio then lost their way, up front at least, and began to ensure they began their Europa League campaign with a point.
Spurs came close – Bale was offside when setting up Defoe to stroke home, after some lovely link-up play with Dempsey. Sandro, 64 minutes in, should have buried a header at the far post, only to glance tamely wide.
Caulker went one better than his Brazilian team-mate seven minutes later, only to have the goal harshly ruled out for climbing over Mauri as he met the ball.
Spurs next travel to Athens to play Panathinaikos in their second game in Group J, while Lazio host Maribor, who became the early group leaders after a 3-0 win over the Greeks in Slovenia.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Mousa Dembele - Powerful on the ball, in control at all times. Spurs were most dangerous on the wings, but it was Dembele who facilitated their attacks.
Tottenham: Lloris 7, Walker 7, Caulker 7, Vertonghen 7, Naughton 7, Sandro 6, Dembele 8, Bale 7, Lennon 7, Dempsey 7, Defoe 6. SUBS: Mason 6, Townsend 6, Sigurdsson 6.
MATCHCAST: FULL COMMENTARY AND STATS