A frustrating afternoon brought groans from Derby supporters but a reminder from Jim Smith put matters in perspective. "We've taken five points from four games and seeing that it took us nearly until Christmas to get that many last year I'm not complaining," the Derby manager said. In fact, it was November but the point was worth making, none the less.
For a side still waiting to assemble all of its key elements at the same time, a win, two draws and one defeat represents an acceptable return. It was the kind of return that would keep one of the obvious relegation candidates safely out of trouble were it to be maintained over the full programme.
"West Ham are a talented side and given that our back four consisted of players of 22 and under I thought we did well," Smith said. "We will need to pass better but there was plenty of endeavour."
Missing Branko Strupar, Malcolm Christie, Stefanio Eranio, Simo Valakari and Brian O'Neil, Smith's hand had been further weakened by the late withdrawal of Horacio Carbonari, forcing him to switch from three to four at the back.
With those facts in mind, to have first contained and then threatened a side as ostensibly well equipped as West Ham, with the returning Don Hutchison adding steel to the creative gifts of Michael Carrick and Joe Cole in midfield, struck Smith as a decent effort.
Indeed, after Frédéric Kanouté and Cole had threatened early damage to the home side, Derby grew in strength and composure, the splendid Craig Burley, determinedly winning the ball and distributing it wisely, repeatedly urging them forward. West Ham, yet to win under Glenn Roeder, fizzled out in the end.
It took Derby a while to create an opening but once one had been made, others followed. Before half time, only a brave save by Shaka Hislop had denied Fabrizio Ravanelli as he lunged at Deon Burton's low cross, the Italian then going close with a glancing header.
Hislop foiled the silver-haired striker again in the second half, stopping the ball on the line after a Nigel Winterburn clearance had spun goalwards off the Italian's body. Ravanelli, off target with a curled free-kick after Christian Dailly had brought down Burton, later set up Derby's best chance, neatly heading a Youl Mawené cross into the path of Burley.
Although Hislop again deserved credit for getting in the way, the Scot had plenty of goal to shoot at, enough to make a corner seem a poor consolation prize.
Then again, West Ham, for whom Paolo Di Canio was disappointing and who lost Kanouté with a hamstring strain early in the second half, might have snatched victory at the death, substitute Jermain Defoe stabbing wide with the goal at his mercy.
Derby County 0 West Ham United 0
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