Derby County had only a late own goal by Sean Gregan to show for long spells of control that had many of the 18,353 crowd, Leeds' lowest in 16 years, calling for the final whistle long before the end.
A combination of factors - Ken Bates' ticket prices, Leeds' humdrum home form, torrential rain and live Champions' League action on TV - ensured there were more empty seats than fans. Even Hulse's ruthless finishing could not gloss over the sense of decline.
The other crucial difference was that Neil Sullivan exuded stability and agility in Leeds' goal, whereas Lee Camp was at fault for Hulse's second and virtually gift-wrapped the third. Camp's failings were all the more damaging because Derby, driven on by former Leeds midfielder Seth Johnson, had opened so well.
Morten Bisgaard sent a free-kick inches wide, while Sullivan did well to parry Paul Peschisolido's shot after Tommy Smith sent him clear. Leeds' fortunes seemed to deteriorate when Richard Cresswell went off nursing a leg injury. In the event, the introduction of Robbie Blake galvanised Leeds - and especially his £1.1m strike partner.
Hulse's benefit night began in the 32nd minute when he redirected Blake's miscued shot past Camp. It continued four minutes later as he stole in front of the Derby keeper to glance in Eddie Lewis' cross. Two minutes from the break, after Camp handled Lewis's 35-yard drive like a greasy balloon, Hulse volleyed the loose ball high into the net.
The lively Blake was close to making it 4-0 after the interval, only for Camp to make partial amends with a flying save from his free-kick. Phil Brown, the Derby manager, had seen enough and made a triple substitution which had the effect of pushing Leeds back again.
His Leeds counterpart, Kevin Blackwell, had been leavinginstructions to his coach, John Carver. The sight of Sullivan making a desperate save from Mounir Hamdaoui's header brought him pointing and shouting into the technical area.
Gregan, under pressure from Michael Johnson after Bisgaard's corner, scored his second own goal in three home matches with 17 minutes left, but Leeds held out with few alarms.
Leeds United (4-4-2): Sullivan; Kelly, Butler, Gregan, Crainey (Kilgallon, 85); Richardson, Douglas, Derry, Lewis; Hulse (Moore, 77), Cresswell (Blake, 25). Substitutes not used: Bennett (gk), Einarsson.
Derby County (4-4-2): Camp; Kenna, Davies, M Johnson, Whittingham; Bisgaard, Fadiga (Bolder, 51), S Johnson, Smith (El Hamdaoui, 51); John (Holdsworth, 51), Peschisolido. Substitutes not used: Poole (gk), Tudgay.
Referee: G Salisbury (Lancashire).