Hartson goes from zero to hero
John Hartson proved West Ham can survive without Ian Wright as he put his side on their way to victory at Pride Park yesterday. Hartson went from zero to hero, scoring his first goal since September 12th after being left on the bench or out of the side altogether for the previous three games.
The Welsh international, who scored 24 times last term, has had a nightmare season, grabbing just two goals until today and fined two weeks' wages after his training ground assault on Eyal Berkovic.
He still faces an FA misconduct charge for kicking his team-mate in the head but all his problems were forgotten when he gave his side the lead on seven minutes.
Berkovic's run took him deep into Derby territory and his pass was touched on by a diving Kitson towards Hartson, who calmly stroked the ball beyond Mart Poom.
Hartson was sent off in the last meeting between these sides, dismissed at Upton Park last April for an incident involving Igor Stimac, but the contrast between then and yesterday could not have been greater.
And with both the former Arsenal striker and Derby old boy Kitson impressing in the absence of Wright, who hurt his calf on England duty last Wednesday, West Ham showed they are by no means a one-man side.
Marc Keller sealed victory for the visitors on 72 minutes, firing home his first goal since arriving at West Ham in the summer.
It was a scrappy game but the Londoners played all the good football, with Berkovic a constant thorn in Derby's side.
Jim Smith's men rarely looked capable of carving their opponents apart and what threat they posed was usually repelled by West Ham's impressive back three of Rio Ferdinand, Ian Pearce and Neil Ruddock. They dealt with the vast majority of Derby's hopeful punts into their box and when they were caught out, Shaka Hislop was on hand to make several fine saves.
Even though they were largely outplayed in the opening period, it was the Rams who carved out the clearer chances.
Rory Delap hooked one shot horribly wide when clean through as early as the fourth minute, while Hislop flung himself to his left to claw Spencer Prior's header wide. And when the West Ham goalkeeper dropped Delap's cross under pressure from Paulo Wanchope, he was able to gather the ball at the second attempt.
But the visitors were opening Derby's defence up too easily for Smith's comfort, with Prior blocking Berkovic's shot and Poom doing well to save Frank Lampard's 35-yard free-kick.
Wanchope hit one second-half snap shot just over and Dean Sturridge had a clever back heel well saved by Hislop as County looked to level after the break but the West Ham were looking more and more dangerous on the break.
Hartson headed a Lampard corner narrowly wide of the far post and Delap had to nod Steve Lomas's effort off the line with Poom, making his first Premiership start of the season, beaten before they doubled their advantage.
Ian Pearce and Berkovic combined and Frenchman Keller, signed from German club Karlsruhe on a free, fired an unstoppable drive beyond Poom and in off the underside off the crossbar.
It could have been worse for Derby, Hartson heading harmlessly wide of an open goal from 25 yards out after Poom had failed to deal with a long ball. But the three points were already assured, with West Ham winning their third match in four attempts.
Derby County: Poom, Carbonari (Harper 63), Powell (Eranio 87), Dorigo, Sturridge, Wanchope, Delap, Bohinen, Laursen, Prior, Baiano (Carsley 13). Subs Not Used: Schnoor, Knight. Booked: Laursen, Carsley.
West Ham United: Hislop, Ferdinand, Pearce, Ruddock, Lomas, Lampard, Sinclair, Berkovic, Keller (Potts 87), Hartson, Kitson. Subs Not Used: Sealey, Moncur, Lazaridis, Margas. Booked: Ferdinand. Goals: Hartson 7, Keller 72.
Referee: A Wilkie (Chester-le-Street).