Manchester United's upward trajectory since last losing a Premier League game five months ago finally resulted in some tangible progress when a hard-earned 3-1 victory at Middlesbrough carried them to within one win of the top four.
Despite remaining unbeaten since a humbling 4-0 defeat away to Jose Mourinho's former club Chelsea in October, they had been unable to rise any higher than sixth place.
Success at the Riverside Stadium, however, lifted them above struggling Arsenal into fifth.
As well as the possibility of finishing in the top four, they have a second chance of competing in next season's Champions League by winning the Europa League, for which they are the bookmakers' favourites.
Upset at having to play three games in seven days, United's manager had gone as far as predicting that they would 'probably lose' at Middlesbrough, but when the mind games stopped and the football began his weakened team did him proud.
'It's fantastic because we managed in a week to go to the quarter-final of the Europa League, which is an important target for us, and got these three points which keep us in the race for fourth position,' he told BT Sport.
'With injured players, tired players, suspended players, the guys were magnificent.
'We controlled everything until our second goal.'
Tottenham Hotspur kept up the distant chase of league leaders Chelsea with a hard-earned 2-1 victory over Southampton to cut the gap to 10 points.
A long-range strike from Christian Eriksen and a Dele Alli penalty extended Tottenham's unbeaten home record as they claimed a 10th successive league win at White Hart Lane.
Questions had been asked about how Tottenham would cope without injured striker Harry Kane but they were answered after 14 minutes when Moussa Dembele found Eriksen and the Dane looked up and flashed a low shot beyond Fraser Forster.
'You will always miss your main striker but it was important to win the game, score goals and keep our position in the table,' Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino said.
'It's good to have players on the pitch who want to take responsibility to take the penalty. With no Harry Kane, everyone can take the penalty.'