This was how Gareth Bale left Tottenham the last time. Firing in the goals, winning games single-handedly as fans longed for more and yet wished him well as he disappeared for Real Madrid.
Bale claimed, in March, there were no plans to stay beyond this one season on loan, although that was when Jose Mourinho was at helm and he was warming the bench.
Two weeks after Mourinho’s exit and the Wales international is back in the team and thriving, with a three goals against Sheffield United to record his first Spurs hat-trick since Boxing Day in 2012.
Villa away,’ beamed Bale, recalling the occasion. ‘It seems a while ago. You have to take your chances when they come, so I’m feeling good. I just needed to play games, get a run of games and I’m doing that now.
Winning makes everyone happy and gives a winning mentality to the dressing room. It’s not going to happen overnight but I feel like we’re taking a step in the right direction.’
It helps to face Sheffield United, of course, the worst team in the top flight, drifting back to whence they came in dismal fashion but Bale’s clinical finishing was a reminder of his undisputed quality.
His first was athletic, at full stretch, to turn a bouncing ball beyond goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale with the outside of his left foot after bursting through the Blades ranks to reach a pass by Serge Aurier.
His second, a truly empathic strike fired into the top corner after Heung-min Son sent him sprinting clear on a counter-attack from a Sheffield United corner, was his 50th in the Premier League and his third cut low past Ramsdale.
Tottenham were coasting by this stage. Son added the fourth, a delightful curling shot from the edge of the penalty area and there might have been more.
Harry Kane was uncharacteristically wasteful but Spurs eased back up to fifth in the Premier League, wondering if there is still time to make a late dash for the top four.
‘You never know,’ said Aurier. ‘People think it’s silly but if we win the last four games we’ll see.’
Perhaps a flourish will even help the search to find a manager. In the meantime, interim boss Ryan Mason is warming to the task.
Spurs dominated without converting their easy possession into goals. Bale cut inside from the right and fired over and Kane blazed one even higher from the edge of the penalty area.
Ramsdale made a terrific low save to deny Son and Chris Basham blocked on the line to frustrate Kane. Once Bale made the breakthrough, Tottenham did not look like losing the lead.
‘No-one should ever have doubted the world-class ability he has in the final third,’ said Mason when asked about his hat-trick hero. ‘It was an excellent performance.’
VAR ruled out a goal by Son, who raced onto a long ball out of defence by Toby Alderweireld only to find he was a fraction offside when the lines were drawn at Stockley Park.
That would have been for 2-0 but it merely delayed the inevitable.
Sheffield United have not won at Spurs since 1991 and never looked as if they might end the long wait.
It took them 65 minutes to register an effort on target, a long-range shot by Oliver Norwood, saved without fuss by Hugo Lloris.
In the first half, they offered next to nothing. David McGoldrick fired wide in the opening minutes and that was about that.
Unimpressed, Paul Heckingbottom made two changes and his team offered more purpose and ventured further up the pitch after the interval only to play to the strengths of Tottenham, who threatened in the space.
The only real trouble the Blades caused Spurs came in the opening moments of the second half when John Fleck stepped onto the side of Giovani Lo Celso’s head to leave him writhing around, clearly in great pain.
Lo Celso had been on the deck and Fleck was trying to avoid him, although not paying a great deal of attention. At least that was the conclusion reached by the officials.
Spurs coach Chris Powell did not agree as he led the angry complaints on the touchline. Lo Celso continued for a while before retiring to the bench when he cut a comical figure with an enormous ice pack taped to his head.
‘I am so shocked that it wasn’t a red card,’ said Mason. ‘I’m shocked the VAR team didn’t at least tell the referee to have a look. I don’t think there’s a clearer red card.
‘He’s endangered an opponent. I cannot believe it wasn’t given as a red card. It’s avoidable. In my eyes it’s a red card, no doubt.’