There was a time, long distant, when Andy Carroll was a West Ham misfit. The striker seemed eternally injured and the new manager, Slaven Bilic, appeared lukewarm towards the big man he had inherited from Big Sam.
But now it’s not hard to imagine Bilic first with the birthday cake, quick with the back slap and generally oozing the kind of bonhomie he once reserved for Dimitri Payet.
Carroll has shown that not only is he the key to West Ham’s recent prosperous form (a few hiccups aside) but he also has been the court jester that put smiles on the faces of a previously downcast Rush Green.
One Saturday once more he showed what he could do in a few seconds, orchestrating his team-mates to facilitate a goal – a necessary one at that because West Ham were 1-0 down at St Mary’s at the time and more than capable of letting the game slip.
Instead, Carroll, Mark Noble and goal debutant Pedro Obiang fixed the Irons in the top half of the table with their 3-1 win against Southampton – a turn-around that showed “character” according to the boss.
Slaven Bilic told the club’s website : “Our response [to falling behind] was brilliant. Of course the equaliser helped, coming so quickly from open play because it showed we could hurt them.
“We have to continue to play like this – and even better – but we are in a good position, not only with the points, but more with the way we are playing and the way we are training. That gives me hope and joy.
“The way we’ve bounced back from the heavy defeats we’ve had shows the character of the team. Make no mistake, the defeat against Manchester City, especially at home, hurt.
“I told the guys, don’t let that affect our confidence because before that we won five out of seven.
“That’s why the win against Southampton was more than three points, because of the way we did it. It was fantastic.”
Dimitri Payet now seems like a bad dream caused by too much brie and the club have won three out of four without the mercurial Frenchman.
“It is the team who have responded to that,” said Bilic. “We lost a great player, but these things happen in football. The team have reacted in the best possible way.
“The boys have shown in those difficult situations that we aren’t going to sink, we’re not going to crumble. We had to take more responsibility as an individual and as a team, and that’s happened.”
Meanwhile after 54 games, Spanish midfielder Pedro Obiang had his own personal cause for celebration with his first goal, dedicated to his seven-month-old Jeremiah.
He said : “It feels very, very good to score my first goal for West Ham. This goal is for my baby because I am now a dad, and I am very happy because many times I have seen the other guys score. I’ve enjoyed that and now I have scored, so I am very happy.”