Michail Antonio seemed destined to leave West Ham’s relegation fight this month but, as he helped his team book an FA Cup fifth round visit to Manchester United last night, the striker demonstrated why David Moyes was so keen to retain his services.
The transfer window arrival of Danny Ings had hinted at the possibility of Moyes listening to offers for the 32-year-old, with Nottingham Forest making one bid and Everton and Wolves showing interest.
But Antonio had a hand in the opening goal, and scored the second himself on Monday night, as West Ham recorded a morale-boosting victory that keeps alive their supporters’ hopes of competing for silverware, as well as trying to climb away from a relegation zone which they currently only stand one point above.
Moyes has weathered his share of pressure this season - and will continue to do so if there is no rapid improvement in league form that has seen them win just one of their last eight games.
Still, with their interests still active in Europe and a place secure in the last 16 of England’s major cup competition, the veteran manager may yet turn his season around.
The fifth round draw, made a few minutes before kick-off, certainly gave an added incentive to the two sides, although both would be forgiven for having far more interest in their league fortunes.
Yet for all their problems, it was West Ham who displayed far more confidence and aggression than their League One hosts.
It took just 10 minutes for the Hammers to take the lead through Bowen, who followed his two goals in the crucial league win over Everton last weekend, with the opener here.
Tomas Soucek and Michail Antonio played a one-two, with the former intelligently heading the ball into the path of Bowen who swept the ball home from close range, via the outstretched arm of goalkeeper Joe Wildsmith.
It was a dream start for the favourites, playing at a packed Pride Park against a Derby team in a rich vein of form and in the thick of the League One promotion chase.
And they had sounded a warning just moments earlier, when Hammers youngster Flynn Downes won the ball in midfield and played in Bowen, who shot straight at the keeper when a pass to Antonio was the smarter option.
Antonio, a player whose uncertain future was certainly having no bearing on his application, was showing too much nous, not to mention physicality, for the hosts throughout a strong opening.
But Paul Warne’s side refused to panic, even though they were demonstrating an alarming tendency to give the ball away cheaply in dangerous positions and, as the half wore on, Derby started to enjoy spells of possession and even the occasional flash of danger in and around the West Ham area.
Conor Hourihane missed with a 25-yard, left-foot shot from a Hammers clearance, James Collins flashed a volley well wide from a Tom Barkhuizen cross and, in the final minute of the first half, Barkhuizen cut in from the left before planting a wild shot wide.
Alphonse Areola had yet to make a save of meaning in the visitors’ goal but at least Derby were showing a pulse and a threat.
The second half briefly offered a glimpse of a greater threat from County as Jason Knight received Craig Forsyth’s pass, turned and shot just wide from the edge of the area.
But, on 49 minutes, Antonio’s sixth goal of the season finally put the tie beyond the minnows’ reach after Bowen sped down the right and enjoyed a fortunate deflection as his cross struck Forsyth.
The ball sat up perfectly for Antonio who made no mistake with a powerful header from four yards, a goal which even had the usually calm and collected Moyes punching the air.
Given current injuries to Ings and Gianluca Scamacca, it was no surprise that the Hammers manager took Antonio out of the fray after 64 minutes, a sign of the role he is earmarked to play in a busy campaign.
West Ham will resume their UEFA Conference League campaign with a last 16 tie in March, as well as the FA Cup trip to Old Trafford, although, first, they were required to negotiate the final minutes at Pride Park.
Ben Johnson was fortunate to survive a penalty shout - at a stadium where VAR was not in operation - when he barged into veteran Curtis Davies and Warne threw on four substitutes in one move, just after the hour with Everton loanee Lewis Dobbin the pick of them as he forced a late save out of Areola.
Wildsmith 6; Smith 5, Davies 6 (Dobbin 63, 7), Forsyth 6, Roberts 8; Hourihane 6 (Rooney 71, 5), Bird 6 (Thompson 61, 6); Mendez-Laing 7 (Springett 62, 6), Knight 6, Barkhuizen 7 (Cashin 62, 5); Collins 6.
Stearman, Loach, Robinson, Brown.
Areola 6; Kehrer 6, Ogbonna 7, Aguerd 6; Johnson 6, Soucek 7, Downes 7, Emerson 6 (Cresswell 78, 5); Bowen 7 (Mubama 78, 5), Fornals 7 (Lanzini 87); Antonio 8 (Benrahma 64, 6).
Fabianski, Coufal, Paqueta, Rice, Laing.
T Bramall 7.