The overriding emotion provoked by Liverpool's decision to spend £35m on Andy Carroll two years ago is still one of disbelief but for West Ham United he is worth his weight in gold.
Sam Allardyce's side had toiled badly during his two-month absence, their form unravelling to the extent that there has even been talk of them being dragged into the dogfight down at the bottom, but Carroll's return was the catalyst for a richly deserved victory over Swansea City, West Ham's first since New Year's Day.
Michael Laudrup said he knew what to expect from West Ham – a direct, physical game centred around getting the ball forward quickly and profiting from set pieces – although he might have been surprised to see Carroll on the pitch when he headed Mark Noble's corner past Swansea's outstanding goalkeeper, Gerhard Tremmel, after 77 minutes.
Making his first start after his return from injury, the striker was not supposed to last 90 minutes yet his performance provided a reminder of what persuaded Liverpool to make him the most expensive English player of all time. Allardyce could not take him off.
"I was surprised," Allardyce said. "Obviously, you see a player come back from nine weeks out and then play 15 minutes against Fulham on Wednesday and you think: 'Come on, let's get the first hour out of him and see how he is.' Generally you will see them walking around that bit more and puffing and blowing, but that wasn't the case. He seemed really fresh and really excited that he was playing. There was no need to bring him off. He made such a big contribution with the way he played, helping the other lads get in for chances, and the fact he scored the goal."
Last week West Ham's co-owner, David Sullivan, said that the club had an agreement with Liverpool to make Carroll's loan move permanent at the end of the season. Carroll still has to agree and Allardyce is not looking too far ahead yet. "I think it's about Andy enjoying his football between now and the end of the season and asking himself: 'What have I achieved here this season?'" he said. "The disappointment was being let go by Liverpool and the disappointment for us was that he had too many injuries. We just hope before we think about the end of the season that he has an injury-free 13 games."
For West Ham, this was a first clean sheet in 10 games and Allardyce praised his defence for snuffing out the threat of Michu, who has gone six games without scoring. Just as pleasing was the contribution made by Mohamed Diamé, whose release clause made him the subject of interest from Arsenal, Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur during the transfer window.
Relieved to have held on to the influential Senegalese midfielder, West Ham's challenge now is to agree a new deal with him. "I think he is settled," Allardyce said. "The window is shut now. He knows he has to produce his best performances from now until the end of the season and he just has to keep enjoying his football and then at the end of the season we can pick up where we left off at the end of this window and start talking again."
Despite a first defeat in seven matches, Laudrup was pleased with how Swansea had fared. The danger for them, with the Capital One Cup final against Bradford City three weeks away, is a loss of focus and Laudrup has warned his players not to rest on their laurels after their victory over Chelsea in the semi-final.
"We are talking about a major event for the club," he said. "Beating the European champions in two legs. I thought there would be a reaction and it hasn't arrived. I said it was important to be more mature as a team. Even as I said it I thought there would be a reaction but it didn't come.
"I don't like to lose, not even in training so imagine a game. It's several weeks since we last lost in the league and I think we have had a very positive run. Sometimes you will lose games and you have to get back on the horse."
Man of the match Andy Carroll (West Ham)
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