United faced West Ham on a freezing cold Monday evening, twelve points adrift of a Newcastle side who were little more than a black and white speck on the horizon. Without a win at Upton Park since 1989, during which time the struggling Hammers had twice derailed United’s title bids, the omens were hardly stacked in the visitors’ favour.
In an ominous start to proceedings, the Hammers rattled the woodwork within three minutes as Tony Cottee pounced on a Steve Bruce error to thud a shot against Peter Schmeichel’s crossbar. The game’s next opening, however, crucially and decisively fell to Cantona. Ryan Giggs impudently spun the ball past Julian Dicks, circumnavigated the burly left-back and attacked down the right wing. Having nipped inside Dicks again and fed Cole, the winger slipped behind a ramshackle backline to receive the striker’s return pass and slide a wonderful cross between Ludek Miklosko and his defenders.
Though the ball traversed the corridor of uncertainty, there was nothing tentative about its dispatch into Miklosko’s goal. Cantona steadied himself and, despite the bobbling ball arriving on his left foot, six yards past the goal and two yards out, side-footed a devastatingly simple finish to bely the complexity of its execution. Co-commentating on Sky Sports, Trevor Francis purred: "This really is a truly outstanding goal. Great play from Giggs, lovely return from Cole, but just look at the angle that Cantona's got. How many players could possibly have got that in from that sort of angle? He's not entitled to score from there.”