Nigel Clough admitted beforehand this was not exactly the draw either Sheffield United or Leyton Orient had been hoping for when they advanced into the later stages of the Capital One Cup.
Bu these League One rivals conspired to produce an entertaining tie which ended with the visitors securing a place in the fourth -ound draw for the first time since 2007.
The strike which sent United through might have been scored at the Matchroom Stadium but it was made in Motherwell.
Michael Higdon, who collected numerous accolades during a prolific spell at Fir Park, had barely broken sweat before converting Jamie Murphy’s expert cross.
The two men, whose partnership once threatened to deliver the Scottish Premier League title to North Lanarkshire, went about their business with the type of purpose and conviction which enabled United to wrestle control before keeping Orient at bay.
James Wallace’s contribution provided another source of encouragement for United. Combining industry with invention - as one surperb piece of second-half skill demonstrated - the Liverpudlian underlined exactly why Clough was so keen to prise him away from Tranmere Rovers during the close season before being withdrawn as a precautionary measure. The midfielder has been nursing a groin injury of late.
If Clough thought he was under pressure entering last night’s game after watching United concede seven goals in their previous two outings, a quick glance at the matchday programme will have allayed his fears.
Barry Hearn sold the club to Francesco Becchetti two months ago, and reading the Italian’s latest address to the home supporters confirmed why Slade has reason for concern.
Despite Slade leading Orient into the play-off finals earlier this year, Becchetti castigated the former United coach and caretaker manager for revealing he had been threatened with the sack following a slow start to the campaign.
“I have always believed that anything said in the changing room is covered by secrecy enshrined in a pact of iron inviolability,” he wrote
Slade, now being courted by Cardiff City, struck a more cordial tone by predicting that United, irrespective of their recent disappointment in the league, will be “right in the mix come May”.
They demonstrated why when Higdon, scoring for the second time since his arrival from NEC Nijmegen, headed Clough’s side in front.
The provider, Murphy, nearly turned poacher moments later when he blazed over the crossbar from the edge of the box.
It was a near-perfect opening for United and, although Romain Vincelot was inches away from snatching a 90th-minute equaliser, they rarely looked back.
Clough, making six changes to the starting 11 beaten by Swindon Town three days earlier, has consistently argued that Higdon would come good despite beginning his United career in frustrating fashion.
His hunch proved correct when the 31-year-old converted the evening’s first chance of note after meeting Murphy’s centre towards the far post.
When the Scot came within a whisker of doubling United’s advantage on their next drive forward, Orient were hanging on by their fingertips.
Nevertheless, it took a superb intervention from Harrison McGahey to prevent Mathieu Baudry’s slide-rule pass from reaching David Mooney as Slade’s men looked to strike back.
With United demonstrating a tenacity which has been notable by its absence of late, failed to create a clear-cut opportunity until Jay Simpson tested Mark Howard’s positional sense and handling just before the hour.
Murphy, with compatriot Ryan Flynn patrolling the opposite flank, has flattered to deceive since United’s return to action in August.
But here, he resembled the rampaging, roving winger of last term.
Another incisive run, after Bob Harris had stripped Jobi McAnuff of the ball, ended with Gary Woods smothering a low drive from the edge of the penalty area.
The second half continued in much the same vein.
Orient tried to commit men forward. United, with Wallace a bruising presence in midfield, cut the supply lines to Mooney, Simpson and McAnuff.
However Flynn’s teasing cross, which was nearly turned home by Louis Reed, reminded the hosts that Clough’s players were not simply content to sit back and soak up pressure.
Wallace ensured they remained on the front foot with a ghosting run across the width of the pitch and angled shot.
Stephen McGinn flashed wide of the near post after being released by Reed.
Moments earlier, though, Elliott Omozusi had seen his 66th-minute effort shave United’s upright after taking a deflection off Flynn.
The entrance of Darius Henderson, who spent three years at United earlier in his career, presented McGahey and Neill Collins with an altogether different challenge than the one Mooney had posed.
But it was Omozusi, again, who came closest to dragging Orient level with another rasping shot which Howard did well to hold as Simpson waited for a rebound.
Vincelot climbed highest to meet an added time corner but could not direct his header on target.
LEYTON ORIENT: Woods 6, Omuzusi 6, Vincelot 7, Cuthbert 4 (Pritchard 10, 6), Baudry 7, James 6 , Mooney 7 (Henderson 68, 6), McAnuff 6, Clarke 6, Petrasso 6 (Cox 62, 6), Simpson 6. Not used: Batt, Bartley, Dagnall, Grainger.
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Howard 6, Alcock 6, Harris 7, Wallace 7 (Doyle 67, 6), Flynn 6, Murphy 7, McGinn 6, Collins 7, McGahey 7, Higdon 7 (Porter 77), Reed 6. Not used: Scougall, McNulty, Davies, McEveley, Turner.
Cautions: James (17), Baudry (45), Doyle (76), Flynn (89).
Goal: Higdon (2).
Referee: James Adcock (Nottinghamshire).