Progress to semi-final eases pressure on Grant...Jonathan Spector and Carlton Cole were key as Manchester United slid out of the League Cup at a snowbound Upton Park against a revitalised West Ham United.
With the winter weather stamping its mark onto the sporting calender this game was in danger of being postponed as referee Mark Clattenburg struggled to make his way to the ground but he and the visitors did arrive on time.
And the Red Devils would have been glad they did as the first chance of the game came for Manchester United after only six minutes, when Robert Green was forced into his first save of the evening.
A floated cross from the right courtesy of Bebe was collected by Gabriel Obertan who fired a low shot to Green’s right. Green’s palm deflected the ball on to the upright, and the quick thinking of James Tomkins cleared the danger. It seemed at this point that the league form book was to carry over into this competition.
This was not the case and after 15 minutes an extraordinary series of events transpired as everyone in Upton Park believed that West Ham had scored the opening goal of the night. A delicate run through the midfield by Spector was threaded to Victor Obinna who hammered a shot off the foot of Chris Smalling and past Tomasz Kuszczak.
One-nil, or so it seemed. The entire ground, both sets of players and even the TV broadcasters had acknowledged the goal only for ref’s assistant Mike Bull to disagree. After much deliberation it was decided that the ball caressed the leg of Spector on its way to Kuszczak and thus, bringing him into play and therefore offside.
It was a surreal moment as everyone was dumbfounded at what had happened, but on multiple replays, the evidence was there and the correct decision was made. This was little comfort for Avram Grant who’s displeasure with decision manifested itself as a petulant throw of the ball back into play.
Grant needn’t have fretted as the first true goal of the night was not far away. In a strange reflection of the first 'goal' those involved in the first incident were present again as Obinna’s delicate and perfectly chipped pass was met by Spector who deftly headed the ball over Kuszczak. It was no more than the Hammers deserved.
As the snow continued to fall there was precious little for the Manchester United fans to cheer as the Hammers controlled possession and never let Ferguson’s men into the contest. And with Obinna and Spector in fabulous form it was hardly surprising.
The Obinna, Spector double act continued to torment Manchester United and the pair produced the second goal for the Hammers after 36 minutes. Another terrific run from Spector was destined once more for Obinna but the close marking of Smalling forced the ball back to Spector who slotted home against the side he started his career with.
The goal was indicative of the lack of solidity at the rear for the Red Devils and frankly, no more than West Ham deserved. No doubt Spector would have enjoyed sending Sir Alex the message.
At half-time a two-nil lead for West Ham was unexpected but the performance warranted the score and no doubt, the famous Fergie hairdryer would have provided all the warmth required in the dressing room for the Red Devils.
As the teams returned for the second half it was clear Sir Alex wasn’t happen with his team as he made one change. Federico Macheda was brought on for Bebe which gave Manchester United more options in attack.
That change almost produced immediate results as a routine kick out from Robert Green was kicked into the back of Macheda and the loose ball was run down by the scampering 'Chicarito' only for Matthew Upson to save what could have been a disastrous moment for the Hammers.
The second half continued in the same vein as the first with West Ham looking the stronger and more committed of the teams. The third goal was also going to be vital in this encounter and it came in favour of the Londoners as Obinna, so often central to all things good with the Hammers, beat Fabio down the left wing and floated the cross into the head of Carlton Cole who scored with little in the way of a challenge from Jonny Evans.
With the snow continuing to fall the referee made his own substitution as the white ball was changed for a yellow one but this made no difference for Manchester United as Obinna once again proved to be too much to handle as great work on the left flank produced yet another cross of quality which Cole gladly received as he once more beat Evans and slotted home to put the Hammers four goals to the good.
Once West Ham were four up, the pressure was off and the choruses of 'I'm forever blowing bubbles' rang out with the confidence that the result was no longer in doubt.
If Avram Grant can use this as a kickstart, then perhaps the Hammers can extricate themselves from the relegation zone of the Premier League and save their league season.