It was “simple maths”. Steve stared at the screen, willing his meagre brain to function. He never missed Countdown these days. It was Janet’s favourite. 10 and 100. How could he ever have made 1,000? It was a mystery.

Meanwhile, as if in mockery, Graeme held forth, an obvious glint in his eye. The maths really was simple. Five days training, rather than the usual three, meant so much more time. More time for the technical, more time for tactical, more time for the physical. Above all, more time for the mental. He had tried to explain that to Steve during training once, but apparently there was no signal on the M62.

It wasn’t just Graeme. The journos were besides themselves too. They asked questions and got actual intelligible answers, rather than the random collection of half-words and vacuous clichés they were used to. Even Craig got to have a go, cheekily asking how the players had embraced the baffling absence of a day off as they prepared to play the champions of Europe. Rather than huffily talking down his own team’s chances, wor Graeme chose to emphasise the core of the squad who cared deeply for their club. Hell, even Max had tried to listen to instructions about what to do without the ball in between composing odes to his gentle departed friend.

We learnt plenty of other things too. Apart from Anderson (who?) and Dummett (obviously), there was a full squad to choose from. That included Martin Dubravká who, it turned out, warranted mention in the same breath as Lionel Messi. Even Messi needed games to get ready after injury, Jones assured the assembled press. Karl Darlow readied his quiff for action one last time, while Luke scribbled notes. His job had been so much easier when he only had to pop into the County in Gosforth to get his stories.

Jones also dropped into conversation the fact that he had been assured of his future at the club. As Martinez tightened to odds-on, badly drawn Daniel Craig did his best impression of his own personal ginger Steve hero. His job was to focus on the Chelsea match. Yes, Keith. Certainly, Keith. Sorry to be boring, Keith, but that’s my sole focus. No, I can’t reveal what I’ve discussed with the owners this week. Interestingly, juicy offers of tempting long pots were declined for sensible tight safety play.

But, just occasionally, Gateshead Graeme found a voice amongst all the coach speak. His job was to leave the club in the best possible shape for his successor. And that meant as United a club as possible. It meant 52,000 fans and all the players pulling together. It was difficult not to feel that, beyond the professionalism of the assistant coach, Jones had been as appalled as anyone else at the way the club had been emptied out under the previous regime. And that included his predecessor. The biggest difference this week, he confessed, was that he didn’t have to run his ideas past Steve first. At least his mobile bill would be lower without the roaming charges to the Algarve.

And still there was just time to gaslight the previous caretaker manager one more time. No, Graeme wasn’t fazed by the spotlight of the global media falling upon him. He’d been involved in World Cup semi-finals and Euro finals. Difficult to do that without winning a cap for your country, Steve.

And so, as Daniel’s (much) less good looking brother prepared to Try Another Day, his barely sentient predecessor sought desperately to link one synapse to another. What on earth could today’s conundrum be? REDUNDATN. Nope. No good. He closed his eyes. Never mind, soon Sir Alex would call and he would be at the wheel again. 1001 and counting…

Matthew Philpotts@mjp19731