Three goals in the final 15 minutes gave this mundane encounter a flattering look and an unexpectedly generous result in West Ham's favour. But Derby – who were reduced to 10 men and saw their influential defender Chris Riggott limp off – became the newest members of the "Give Graham Poll Christmas Off Club".
Fresh from his much-criticised performance at Highbury last week – where the referee gave a severe interpretation of the rules in relation to forwards attempting to gain an advantage – Poll sent off Benito Carbone and turned an evenly balanced game into a one-horse race.
Indeed, the Londoners ended it with an array of party tricks that were out of context with their general display, albeit that Joe Cole and Paolo di Canio's ball skills were delightful. Poor Derby, reduced to 10 men, could only sit back in admiration as the Hammers played to the crowd.
Carbone, a busy presence alongside Fabrizio Ravanelli in the opening period, was sent off after 54 minutes following a rash, lunging and unnecessary challenge on Thomas Repka as the defender shielded the ball out of play. Repka's theatrical collapse may have belonged in a pantomime, but it did not warrant the dismissal of the little Italian. However, Carbone had looked to have been harshly cautioned only five minutes earlier when he sprawled in the penalty area as Repka challenged, and appeared to dispossess him.
Repka, himself, had been cautioned four minutes earlier for a clumsy tackle on Carbone.
If the referee's decisions were harsh on Carbone, they were devastating for Derby. Trailing to Sebastien Schemmel's first for West Ham after only four minutes, the visitors worked feverishly to stay afloat, but were sunk by the combination of Poll's decisions and Riggott's injury. Schemmel scored when a Don Hutchison shot, following a Michael Carrick free-kick, flew off the defensive wall and left him to score from close range.
Predictably, a foul on Di Canio had earned West Ham that free-kick. Equally predictably, the Italian scored their second when François Grenet failed to clear a cross from Schemmel and Di Canio picked his spot with a diagonal left-foot shot from 15 yards after 74 minutes.
This goal opened the floodgates for West Ham whose performance had, until then, been lethargic. Two ahead, they oozed confidence and amid the flicks and dummies, produced some decent football at last. Cole, twice, scuttled through a series of defenders to see shots saved by Mart Poom before Trevor Sinclair hit the third with a spectacular 10-yards volley from a deep Cole cross.
Until then, the crowd had been dozing off any excesses, but this brought them to their feet and, in a grandstand finish, John Moncur set up fellow-substitute Jermain Defoe for a cleverly guided left-foot shot in the final minute. It signalled Glenn Roeder's best result since he took charge and lifted West Ham to 10th in the Premiership as they extended their unbeaten run to five games. For Derby, however, the New Year looks bleak.
West Ham United (4-4-2): James 7; Schemmel 8, Repka 7, Dailly 6, Winterburn 6; Hutchison 7, Cole 8, Carrick 7, Sinclair 8; Kanoute 7 (Defoe, 76), Di Canio 8 (Moncur, 89). Substitutes not used: Hislop (gk), Foxe, Kitson.
Derby County (3-5-2): Poom 7; Mawene 7, Riggott 8 (Boulder 5, 62) Higginbotham 7; Grenet, 6, Ducroco 6 (Kinkladze 7, 46), Boertien 6, Powell 7, Zavagno 6; Carbone 6, Ravanelli 8. Substitutes not used: Oakes (gk), Christie, Burton.
Referee: G Poll (Tring) 3.Reuse content