I don’t want to get all mystical on you but… it was foretold.
It was foretold on Saturday evening in the frustrated aftermath of that peculiar defeat to (of all teams) West Ham, when a performance featuring 19 shots, six of them on target, and 671 (!) passes somehow failed to yield a single goal, or (worse) a single point.
Yet, even then, it was foretold.
I was driving home in a state of numb bafflement after that game and I had just come off the Wandsworth Bridge roundabout, heading south up the hill, when, lo, a bright sign appeared in the sky.
And as I looked on in awe, the sign took the form of the head of Reece James and hovered above the road. And the sign seemed to say: ‘Be not afeared. For the online retailer known as Amazon have bought the rights to a bunch of Prem matches. Which means there is another game at the Bridge but four days hence, against another side in claret and blue, when all the wrongs of this puzzlingly wretched afternoon against a shockingly average West Ham side and their have-a-go-hero goalkeeper will be righted.
‘And on that day, you shall face the side men do call Aston Villa. And the pain that you presently know shall be lifted in a way that will be kind of tidy on account of their strips being practically the same. And the misery (and frankly the disbelief) that you are now sorely experiencing will be outcast and replaced with great rejoicings. And the sound of celebration will once again be heard in the land, and there will be a decent old gap between yourself and fifth place.’
And lo it came to pass, just as the sign featuring the head of Reece had said. There was, indeed, another game merely four days hence, and in it we beat Villa 2-1 thanks to a goal and a truly natty assist from the returning Tammy Abraham, who had the grace not to celebrate the former in front of his loan-club’s fans, but who certainly enjoyed celebrating the latter. And at the end of all that, six points separated us from Wolves in fifth place, and nine points separated us from Tottenham, who had amusingly lost at Manchester United.
So many thanks for the tip-off, then, to the electronic advertising hoarding on the Trinity Road overpass. (Lo, it came to overpass?) Because when you’ve just unaccountably slipped up against a team like West Ham, it’s exactly what you want to hear: that there’s another game coming along very soon in which to put it right and obliterate the memories.
Which was sweeter in that clinching move last night: Mason Mount’s volley, or the lay-off from Abraham, teeing it up off his chest? I enjoyed the finish, of course, but I’ll be surprised if we see a better use of a player’s torso this season.
And it all came topped with a thoroughly enjoyable sprinkling of karma, too, the reliably good-value Aston Villa fans having already gone into song with a comparison between the relative values of Mount and their own Jack Grealish. Yet, in the end, Mount’s most memorable contribution to the game was that winning goal, whereas Grealish’s was nudging Mateo Kovacic into the East Stand advertising hoardings and somehow escaping a booking for it. You choose.
Of course, in general the game conformed to the common narrative shape at the moment: one in which our team plays all the football, makes all the running and yet is phenomenally relieved to hear the referee blow the final whistle. Last night we had a stonking total of 25 shots, and, on average, every 10 minutes one of those shots hit the target. ‘Dominant’ would have been the obvious word to use for it. Yet the possibility of Villa humping in a spirit-crushing equaliser remained horribly plausible right to the last breath, and I can’t have been the only person metaphorically crossing his legs at the sight of Villa’s goalkeeper on a kamikaze mission upfield before that late free-kick was taken. We’ve seen that before this season, when Ben Foster of Watford decided to make a late guest appearance in our penalty area and almost had two of our points away with the game’s penultimate touch.
Same conclusion, I guess: that a one-goal lead is never comfortable; and that domination is no match for a bucketful of goals, if one is available. (It almost might be smart not to concede any more goals like Villa’s equaliser – a strike as soft as any you will see this side of a kids’ half-time penalty shoot-out against Stamford.)
Still, two goals, three points, Saturday’s traumas purged… and all this in a 7.30pm kick-off. One for the oldsters, there. I’m experienced enough to remember when 7.30pm was practically the law for night-time football, before your 7.45 came along and nudged it aside, followed by your 8.00, and even (controversially) your 8.05. These days, of course, with the exception of the odd stray cup game, you normally have to get relegated for the 7.30pm kick-off to be a regular feature of your life. For the rest of us, that start-time is just the stuff of dewy-eyed nostalgia, along with half-time scoreboards and Wagon Wheels.
Good to see it back, I suppose, ushered in (and here’s an irony) by the latest development in modern-era match consumption. What will the Amazon-led streaming revolution resuscitate for us next? The 10-minute interval? The back-pass? Two points for a win? We wait and see.
Meanwhile, it’s Everton away next. I’ll be keeping an eye out for signs.