After what United fans have been through this past six months, one doesn’t wish to sound ungrateful.
Last Thursday’s win in Belgrade was a win, at least — something we’d been notoriously starved of on our 2019 travels.
But the shockingly dismal boredom of the performance — still very 2019, that — hadn’t exactly put a spring in Reds’ steps as they trudged down to Norwich.
One of my oldest comrades even admitted to wishing he could sneak a cheeky peek at glam LFC/Spurs tie instead, “but I’m condemned to watching a lifetime’s emotional investment stuck in the doldrums”.
By half time, things looked so different. What was this we were seeing? A thoroughly entertaining match? Chances-a-go-go being created?
Goals an’ pens an’ thrills an’ spills? When was the last time we could honestly say this team might’ve justifiably been four-up at half time? I know the clocks had just gone back, but surely not by 10 years?
Yes, yes. Calm down, lads; it’s only Norwich. Aye, you can imagine Keano or Fergie muttering that at someone getting over-giddy.
But this isn’t the Noughties, sadly. It’s the hitherto-nightmarish 2019, and almost every opponent represents a potential beartrap for this fragile outfit and its Bambi-esque boss. So you take your succour where you can.
A few weeks ago, I wrote here of dreaming about seeing Martial, Rashford, and James all up front, bombing forward as an ensemble in 1976 fashion. Of course, at that time, only one of that trio was looking anything like an explosive footballer; the other two were alternating between dark sulks and damp squibs.
But there were moments on Sunday when you could squint and see something resembling this dream threatening to unfold.
Is there any hope, though, of getting any consistency out of the older pair? We have been here before, after all; Martial especially has often shown glimpses of why he was so expensive, only to retreat into his mysterious unsmiling shell again shortly thereafter.
Let’s turn the dream machine back on. Imagine that this up-front combo does click, consistently. Then all we have to do is sort the midfield out, right? Y’know, that small technical task that has been defeating United managers for a decade.
Old Trafford scouts are certainly scouring the world, at least. You’ll have seen just about every decent midfielder linked to us this past two weeks for good reason; United personnel worldwide are on a mission.
I am told by an O.T. insider Declan Rice is near or even at the top of the list, and that steps have been taken.
The young West Ham star has his roots in Cork, which gives the possibility of a transfer with the pleasing superstitious whiff of Keano’s Magic Hat (We can diplomatically overlook his desperately disappointing decision to switch international teams, can’t we?).
United are also finally promising to get their director of football act together. This putative post had become one of football’s longest-running jokes, but I am told the specs have now been redrawn to everyone’s satisfaction and that matters are well in hand.
The actual job title may not have been fixed yet, but it won’t be ‘The Most Hated Man In Football’, which is apparently what Ed Woodward bitterly tells people he thinks he is known as. I was a bit surprised to hear this from an insider, as I hadn’t suspected Ed might possess such a level of self-awareness.
There might be hope for him yet.
So on we go to Chelsea on Wednesday, and then to Bournemouth, for the second half of a travel-heavy quartet of fixtures.
Two down, two wins in the bag; I don’t think many of us would have wagered on that a fortnight ago, just as few thought we’d escape a beating against the Scousers.
Admittedly, Wednesday looks like a tough ask, and it’s hard to compute that we did beat this Chelsea team 4-0 less than three months ago.
But the glimmer has been restored. The glimmer of hope. The nights may be drawing in, but there’s light in that flame — for those who wish to see it, anyway.