Striker Andy Carroll has become the pied piper who is leading West Ham out of the doldrums caused by poor form and the Dimitri Payet row.
The tall forward put two passed Middlesbrough on Saturday in a 3-1 win at the Riverside, leading the line with typical rip-roaring energy. While his goal against Crystal Palace the previous week was regarded as “world-class”, West Ham supporters will be more familiar with his MO in the north east – powering in to the danger area and making it count.
Slaven Bilic, who has seen his team dragged from relegation zone to top half team, is full of praise for the No.9 who has scored five goals in 10 games, three in the last two.
Bilic compared him to an illustrious former Everton team-mate.
He told the club’s website : “I played with Duncan Ferguson at Everton, and marked him when I was at West Ham, and he is the only one I can compare. He’s got everything, he’s tall, he attacks the ball, he has great timing. Everything.
“Now he looks fit, he’s training. Of course we are managing him, but we are not nursing him like maybe before. He is training as much as possible, without going over the line.”
The key to Andy Carroll – and by extension to West Ham’s season – is to keep him on the pitch as his career has been hampered by long periods of injury
“He is 100% fit now,” said Bilic. “He has been training for a couple of months, and there is no reason to think the best period of his career won’t come now.
“He is at a great age, he is happy, he’s smiling, he’s settled down. He’s happy with us and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t enter five years of his best football now.”
The 28-year-old striker thinks it was Payet’s refusal to play that galvanised a team in the doldrums. He told the club’s official website: “The lads have come together even stronger recently with everything that’s going on and you can see on the pitch everyone is working together, putting the grit in and that’s when the points come.
“The morale in the dressing room is fantastic. All the lads are having a laugh before and it’s great to be around. Everyone wants to work for the manager and it’s brilliant.
“It was tough at the beginning of the season, but we came out of that and we’re just thinking about each game as it comes.”
Meanwhile Jonathan Calleri, who has cast something of a forlorn figure, managed to score his first goal for the club, with a lucky deflection, when Carroll was taken off as a precautionary measure.
Carroll said: “We’ve got 10 days until the next game, so we’ll rest up and look forward to that.”