FIRST-HALF goals from Andy Carroll and Gary O’Neil set ten-man Albion on their way to a disappointing defeat in East London.
With the game goalless, Romelu Lukaku saw a 14th-minute free-kick deflected onto the post, only for Carroll to break the deadlock two minutes later with a bullet header.
And the Hammers were unfortunate not to have more than O’Neil’s fine 28th-minute strike to show for their efforts by the interval.
Steve Clarke’s men were certainly not found wanting for effort but could not match it with the quality required to unlock United’s well-drilled rearguard.
Carroll ended any hopes of a Baggies fight-back with a fine volley ten minutes from time before Graham Dorrans bagged a consolation from the penalty spot in the 88th minute.
Albion were reduced to ten men in the fifth minute of stoppage time when Youssouf Mulumbu was red-carded for kicking the ball at O’Neil.
Fourteenth entertained eighth at the Boleyn Ground, with the two teams separated by 11 points.
Former West Ham assistant boss Clarke made two changes from the goalless draw at Stoke a fortnight ago as Shane Long and fit-again Dorrans replaced the injured James Morrison and benched Jerome Thomas.
West Ham welcomed back skipper Kevin Nolan from injury. He replaced Jack Collison.
Both teams displayed an attacking intent during the opening stages and it was the visitors who recorded the first shot of the game, with Long curling an ambitious shot wide from Chris Brunt’s lay-off.
Moments later, Nolan found space on the edge of the Baggies box but his tame effort failed to trouble Ben Foster’s goal.
In the fifth minute, Hammers full-back Guy Demel swung in a cross from the right which Ricardo Vaz Te headed high into the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand, which housed Albion’s vociferous 1,500-strong away support.
The goalmouth incidents continued to come and Jussi Jaaskelainen somewhat awkwardly spilled a dangerous 20-yard Dorrans drive wide of his near-post after a powerful run by the Scotland international.
Long put the ball in the net from Brunt’s ensuing corner but the effort was rightly ruled out for Gareth McAuley’s push on Jaaskelainen.
West Ham surged straight upfield and after Jonas Olsson had blocked Nolan’s 18-yard strike, the ball looped kindly to Vaz Te, who volleyed wide from 15 yards.
But only the woodwork kept the hosts level on 14. Lukaku’s fierce 30-yard free-kick cannoned off the defensive wall and the wrong-footed Jaaskelainen did brilliantly to change direction and push the ball onto his right-hand post before gathering at the second attempt.
However, it was the East Londoners who broke the deadlock. O’Neil swung a 16th-minute corner across the edge of the six-yard box and Carroll rose highest to plant an unstoppable header past Foster.
The Hammers threatened again two minutes later when Vaz Te teed up Mohamed Diame, who fired inches over from 20 yards, with Foster beaten.
Albion had another escape on 21 when Carroll flicked a lofted free-kick onto the unmarked Jarvis, who volleyed a terrific chance over from close range.
The Baggies regrouped and Long was unable to match his impressive surge into Hammers territory when he failed to hit the target with another long-range strike.
West Ham continued to look bright going forward, though, and Vaz Te directed a downward header straight at Foster from Jarvis’ centre, although the former Wolves winger did appear to carry the ball into touch before centring.
It was 2-0 on 28. West Ham broke with stunning speed after clearing an Albion free-kick and Vaz Te laid the ball off to O’Neil, who steered a stunning first-time shot over Foster and inside the far bottom corner from 20 yards.
Albion needed a goal from somewhere and one almost arrived on 35 when Jaaskelainen failed to hold Dorrans’ awkward 25-yard strike. Long beat the former Bolton keeper to the loose ball but was unable to direct it goalwards.
West Ham had loud penalty appeals turned away on 40 when Billy Jones stopped Jarvis’ incisive run into the box with his right boot. TV replays showed that the Baggies right-back had timed his tackle to perfection and won the ball.
Clarke gave the same XI a chance to make amends after the interval and they made a purposeful start. With less than three minutes on the clock, Lukaku held off his marker before flashing a 25-yard shot inches over, with Jaaskelainen beaten.
The Baggies were being far more patient in their build-up play and keeping the Hammers pegged back in their own half.
It wasn’t until the 58th minute that United threatened the Albion goal, when Liam Ridgewell made a vital interception inside the six-yard box to deny Carroll a clear chance.
But normal service soon resumed, with Clarke’s men once again camped in the West Ham half. And the Baggies went mightily close on 65 when Jones forced his way onto Mulumbu’s neat pass and held off two defenders before being denied at point-blank range by Jaaskelainen.
Clarke made a double change on 71, replacing Long and Claudio Yacob with Markus Rosenberg and Peter Odemwingie.
The substitutions gave the Baggies added impetus and Odemwingie twice went close.
But it was game over ten minutes from time. The unmarked Carroll watched James Collins’ lofted free-kick into the box like a hawk before planting a brilliant volley on the turn past the helpless Foster.
Albion kept plugging away and Rosenberg sent an acute shot just wide from 20 yards.
The Baggies were awarded a penalty two minutes from time when sub Matthew Taylor shoved Lukaku in the box. Dorrans made no mistake, blasting the ball down the middle of the goal. It proved his final contribution, as he was replaced by Marc-Antoine Fortune before the restart.
West Ham started to have some nervy moments and Rosenberg was unfortunate to see his fine shot on the turn fly straight into Jaaskelainen’s midriff.
There was more agony for Albion. Mulumbu saw the red mist and was sent off for kicking the ball at O’Neil deep into stoppage time.
WEST HAM (4-4-2): Jaaskelainen; Demel (McCartney 79), Reid, Collins, O’Brien; O’Neil, Nolan (c) (Taylor 69), Diame (Collison 82), Jarvis; Carroll, Vaz Te. Subs not used: Henderson (gk), Tomkins, C Cole, Chamakh.
ALBION (4-4-2): Foster; Jones, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell; Dorrans (Fortune 88), Yacob (Odemwingie 71), Mulumbu, Brunt (c); Lukaku, Long (Rosenberg 71). Subs not used: Myhill (gk), Thomas, Popov, Tamas.
GOALS: WEST HAM – Carroll (16 & 80), O’Neil (28). ALBION – Dorrans (pen 88).
BOOKINGS: WEST HAM – Reid (handball 78). ALBION – Long (foul 67).
SENDING-OFF: ALBION – Youssouf Mulumbu (violent conduct 90+5).
REFEREE: Andre Marriner (West Midlands).
ALBION STARMAN: Youssouf Mulumbu.