In a hard fought game at Dagenham & Redbridge's Victoria Road ground, a Hammers team with an average age of 18 gave a spirited display against a well-organised Derby side who have won the southern section of the reserve league twice in the past three years.
Hammers had been scheduled to kick off their campaign against Arsenal last week, but injuries and the absence of the under-19 squad - who were successfully participating in a youth tournament in Japan - led to the game being postponed. Having returned from Asia, most were involved against the Rams this evening and Roger Cross's side included just two players with previous first team experience - Shaun Byrne and goalkeeper Stephen Bywater.
Midfielder Graeme Carrick was forced to stand in as a makeshift striker, while second year Academy trainees Tommy Laws, Phil Lumsden and Darren Blewitt formed an unfamiliar central trio in defence.
Despite their inexperience, though, Hammers were more than a match for the opposition and were unlucky not to have taken all three points late in the game after growing in confidence as the evening wore on.
Although clear-cut chances were at a premium at both ends of the field, Irish midfielder Daryl McMahon twice came close to snatching a winner in the final 10 minutes. First he saw a stinging left-foot shot tipped round the post by Derby keeper Andy Oakes, then he saw his point-blank shot blocked by the Rams' stopper again three minutes from time.
At the other end, Derby didn't really threaten after hitting the post with a scrambled effort in the 19th minute, although Bywater had to be alert in the 78th minute when striker Twigg wriggled free, saving a low shot with his legs.
In the end, a point was a fair result, but Hammers' young troops came off with their heads held high having displayed the kind of character and determination that is certainly needed at present.
Team: Bywater, McClenahan, Tattum, Laws, Lumsden, Blewitt, Byrne (Wright 76), McMahon, Cole, Carrick (Noble 65), Pearson. Subs unused: Forde, Parrington, Bunce, Collington.