Gareth Bale allowed Tottenham fans to dream again with a glorious hat trick to keep their slender Champions League hopes alive.
Bale rolled back the years at White Hart Lane as he showed glimpses of the brilliance which once made him the most expensive player in the world.
Wales superstar Bale, 31, scored with three super finishes, lit up an end-of-season game and in a normal year would have gone off to a standing ovation when he was substituted in the 75th minute.
And that is the cruel thing, the Tottenham fans have been denied the chance to see one of their all time greats in the flesh because of the empty stadiums in the Covid era.
Instead, there were cheers and applause from the directors’ box with chairman Daniel Levy probably making the most noise.
In a turbulent, topsy turvy season, Levy at least tried to deliver a fairytale by signing Bale on a season-long loan last September but the story often did not look as if it would have a happy ending.
Jose Mourinho was reluctant to play Bale at times, questioning his motivation and fitness, but when he has been given the chance, the old excitement has been there.
Bale’s pace was electric, his finishing was top class and it will beg the question of whether they can get him back on loan from Real Madrid for another year.
The noises have not been good, but Bale – who joined Real Madrid for £85m in 2013 – has still got it when he is in the mood. He has scored nine Premier League goals and only ever beat that tally once in his previous time at the club.
It was a brilliant man of the match display, in the end it turned into a rout as Spurs caretaker boss Ryan Mason delivered a half decent audition as the goals rained down in the second half.
But Mason will also have done himself no harm by picking such an attacking line-up, unleashing Bale, Heung-Min Son – who was also on target – together with Harry Kane and Dele Alli in the starting line-up.
This is what Tottenham are supposed to be about: attacking flair, excitement and drama. Not the terrible no-show against Manchester City in last week’s Carabao Cup final.
Whether these sort of wins will be enough for Mason to stand a realistic chance will probably depend on whether they qualify for Europe. Top four looks a big ask but they are still in the hunt.
And Bale will only strengthen their belief with displays like this. They broke the deadlock after 36 minutes when Serge Aurier’s lofted through ball put in Bale to fire past Sheffield United keeper Aaron Ramsdale.
United midfielder John Fleck was lucky not to see red after catching Giovani Lo Celso in the head with a stray boot while VAR also ruled out Son’s effort.
But Bale made it two after 62 minutes. Son saw Bale sprinting from inside his own half and raced through before smashing a hot into the top corner.
Bale then completed his hat trick after 69 minutes as Alli and Aurier combined to set him up. His job was done. Son was finally rewarded after 77 minutes with a sensational 25 yard shot which flew in off the post to complete the win.