As the chimes rang out and champagne corks popped on New Year’s Eve, Chelsea celebrated the start of 2017 with a 13-point lead over Tottenham.
Liverpool, Manchester City or Arsenal might yet trouble them, but not fifth-placed Tottenham.
Nobody, not even Kevin Keegan, has ever thrown away a lead of more than 12 points to a rival in the history of the Premier League.
Something remarkable, though, was beginning to happen. The changing of the year signalled the coming of age for Mauricio Pochettino’s young side, which had rather run out of experience as much as legs just a season before.
Chelsea had themselves experienced it just four days into the new year, losing 2-0 at fortress White Hart Lane.
But it is only now in May that the huge sigh of relief could be felt sweeping down the Thames to South-west London to join a rare bellow of delight in the bowl of the London Stadium as Manuel Lanzini swept the ball in to guarantee West Ham’s survival and leave Tottenham to their “what ifs” for another year.
Perhaps Antonio Conte, who claimed he would be dining out with his family last night, felt it. He is far too hungry for success himself in the Premier League to allow his team to let things slip from here.
But for all the discussion of various gaps, narrow or otherwise, coming into the game, by half-time all the talk was of one very specific margin – and it was no bigger than the width of a Frenchman’s knee.
There had been a cagey start to this latest London derby.Spurs may have dominated the early possession but West Ham proved dangerous on the break. Lanzini fired the first warning shot across goal; Victor Wanyama had to be on his toes to sprint back to stop Sam Byram meeting a far post header; when Cheikhou Kouyate finally got an effort on target it was a tame header straight at Lloris.
But, in the 27th minute, the France international keeper was to play a much more significant role on the night.
He was uncharacteristically slow to spot the danger when Lanzini…