Hartlepool United had never reached the fifth round of the FA Cup. After memorably knocking out Stoke City in the third round, it felt like their centenary season might hold a good omen. Maybe next year.
Hartlepool were given a standing ovation on the final whistle, but that was in recognition of a valiant defeat and appreciation for the Monkey Hangers' insistence on a passing game that would have sparked applause at Upton Park for its ideological zeal. But a combination of West Ham United's quality and the officials' lack of it brought the Londoners two goals in the two minutes before half-time.
Whereas before then Hartlepool's passing had been pretty with a dangerous edge, after those goals it was pretty without being worrying for Gianfranco Zola's strong team.
Valon Behrami got their first, rounding off a pleasing West Ham move with a drilled low shot past Arran Lee-Barrett; Mark Noble the second after the referee, Lee Mason, somehow awarded a penalty for Michael Nelson's handball outside the area. Mason was given no assistance from his assistant.
"I don't think we beat Hartlepool because of the penalty," Zola said. "We were very professional. You can lose games like this if you want to lose. Certainly we are the better team – no disrespect – but we have to show it, and we did.
"We want to go to Wembley and to get there you have to come to places like this. But I love doing that, it's fantastic, I love it, honouring the competition."
Chris Turner, Hartlepool's caretakermanager, touched on the penalty decision but said he "did not want to harp on about it". He too described West Ham's performance as "very professional".
After 43 minutes of open, entertaining play from both sides, shaded by the League One team, West Ham produced a flowing move involving Herita Ilunga, Jack Collison and eventually Behrami.
Hartlepool had forced Scott Parkerinto a goal-line clearance on nine minutes but Robert Green made no telling save until past the hour, when he tipped a Gary Liddle header over. But in first-half injury-time a Carlton Cole flick clipped Nelson's hand a yard outside the area. Mason pointed to the spot and Noble steered the ball in. That, as Turner said, "made it easier for West Ham to play the way they did in the second half".
Basically that was Italian-style – defending in numbers, inviting Hartlepool on. When they could, the Hammers broke away, and Cole struck the post on 74 minutes.
But the contest had begun to flag by then, though Turner was correct: "We've done the town justice."
Referee: Lee Mason
Man of the match: Jones