Grimsby Town, drifting in mid-table in the First Division and rocked by an extraordinary rift between their star player and manager, put domestic difficulties aside to eliminate West Ham from the FA Cup with a performance of high quality at Blundell Park last night. Goals by Gary Childs, Neil Woods and Jamie Forrester, in injury time, earned them a home fifth-round tie against Chelsea next Wednesday.
Inevitably, this fourth-round replay was overshadowed by the uncertainty surrounding the future of Grimsby's Italian import, Ivano Bonetti, following the incident at Luton last Saturday, after which Bonetti received hospital treatment for a fractured cheekbone and Brian Laws, the Grimsby player- manager, with whom he reportedly clashed, offered to resign.
But differences appeared to have been settled when, before kick-off, the former Nottingham Forest defender had appeared with Bonetti in the press room and the two men had shaken hands.
Laws missed last night's match through suspension. Bonetti's absence, which may extend to a month, left Grimsby without their two best players, which seemed to stack the odds heavily against them. While West Ham's victory at Tottenham on Monday was their third successive win in the Premiership, Grimsby have not won in the Endsleigh League since November. The Cup being the Cup, however, it was West Ham who showed signs of nerves. Having trailed to a goal by Laws at Upton Park before Iain Dowie equalised, they were anxious to avoid going behind again but did so after 24 minutes when Nicky Southall's diagonal pass found Childs in space on the right.
At first the Grimsby winger seemed likely to be overwhelmed by West Ham's cover but kept his cool wonderfully before dummying the goalkeeper, Ludek Miklosko, and releasing his shot. Marc Rieper, under the crossbar, kicked the ball away but it was ruled to have crossed the line.
Composed in defence, patient in midfield, Grimsby for the most part controlled the game. And, still perhaps weary from Monday's exertions on a heavy White Hart Lane pitch, West Ham could make no significant impression, although Ian Bishop, from long range, at least forced Paul Crichton to concede a corner at full stretch.
But then, after 64 minutes, the home side doubled their lead when Woods, racing through the middle, took a splendid pass from Childs in his stride and drilled a low shot into the corner to Miklosko's left.
At last the London side, whose Portuguese signing, Dani, and the Croat Slaven Bilic, were ineligible for last night's tie, summoned the resolve to put Grimsby under pressure. But Crichton was in unbeatable form, defying both Dowie and the substitute John Harkes.
To complete the Hammers' humbling, Forrester, the former Leeds striker, added a third goal in injury time, following up eagerly on a breakaway attack after Miklosko could only beat out a shot by Southall.
Grimsby Town (4-4-2): Crichton; McDermott, Lever, Frost, Fickling; Childs (Livingstone, 85), Groves, Shakespeare, Southall; Woods, Forrester. Substitutes not used: Dobbin, Rodger.
West Ham United: (4-4-2): Miklosko; Potts, Martin (Harkes, 66), Rieper, Dicks; Hughes, Williamson, Bishop, Rowland (Gordon, 66); Cottee, Dowie. Substitute not used: Sealey (gk).
Referee: R Hart (Darlington).