Football: Hearty Hammers

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The Independent Online
West Ham United 5

Di Canio 19, Berkovic 28, Wright 55, Ruddock 64, Sinclair 68

Derby County 1

Wanchope 79

Half-time: 2-0 Attendance: 25,485

THE MYSTERY that surrounds qualification for European football next season began to unravel itself yesterday, with West Ham making an emphatic challenge to the likes of Aston Villa and Middlesbrough for fifth spot in the Premiership that should guarantee an Intertoto Cup place. Meanwhile, Jim Smith confirmed what his team's performance had suggested by saying that Derby no longer wished to be considered for entry into the Uefa Cup by the back door.

The Intertoto Cup may not have been every club's idea of a worthwhile aspiration but, now that it is too late for most teams to improve their disciplinary record sufficiently to be considered for the fair play award, it is all that is left to play for.

Both managers yesterday were critical of Uefa's latest procrastinations, which may reward Sheffield Wednesday despite their lowly League position. "No one knows what's happening or what you've got to do to get into Europe" Harry Redknapp said. Smith dismissed the Intertoto Cup as an unwanted distraction.

Unwanted or not, judging by their display yesterday Derby could have done with some sort of incentive and, while West Ham may not know what the future holds, on this form Redknapp's crowd-pleasing cavaliers would be a sad loss to any competition if they did fall short of European qualification

After making an inauspicious start when Shaka Hislop had to make a double save from Darryl Powell and Dean Sturridge, West Ham rode roughshod over an inept defensive display by Derby. The goals were shared around, befitting an excellent team effort, although the blue-booted Paolo Di Canio was undoubtedly the catalyst.

The turning point was the arrival of Ian Wright in the 18th minute as replacement for Steve Potts. Within a minute Trevor Sinclair threaded a ball down the right for Di Canio, who cut inside and his shot took a wicked deflection off Spencer Prior on its way past Russell Hoult.

Powell did his best to muster an immediate response and Hislop was again at full stretch to deny him but gaps of an alarming proportion were now appearing as Derby's defenders tried to hold their line. They were undone once more by Di Canio, who this time chose to roll the ball into the path of Eyal Berkovic and the little Israeli finished with aplomb.

After the interval, Wright pounced for a typical poacher's goal after Frank Lampard's speculative shot was spilled by Hoult. Then Sinclair skipped passed Stefan Schnoor and produced a beautiful cross to the far post, where Neil Ruddock nodded home, and four minutes later Sinclair glanced a delicate header past the hapless Hoult from Steve Lomas's cross.

Paulo Wanchope pulled one back for Derby near the end, but the lack of celebration or congratulation told a sorry story.