Fernando Torres sat speechless but serene as he contemplated the moment the drought had broken. The raucous celebrations, the giddy delirium that had buried the Spaniard under a pile of screaming team-mates, had been relished out on the pitch. Back in the dressing room, a sense of relief was palpable, the striker was emotionally spent.
"He was quietly content," Frank Lampard said. "He's not a 'shout it from the rooftops' sort of fella and I like that in him." There has been so little for Torres to bellow about since swapping Liverpool for the capital that he might have been forgiven for departing this arena in a more boisterous mood. Yet the sense at Chelsea remains that his touch, his recovery as the ball spluttered in a puddle, then his calmly executed swivel and finish represent the start of Torres's career proper in London. The choking statistics – 901 goalless minutes for all-comers and 732 for Chelsea, since the £50m forward last scored – can be forgotten. The recovery of his reputation has begun at last.
The suspicion is that it will not be until next term, with a full pre-season of tactical tweaking behind them, that Chelsea will see the best of the 27-year-old striker on a regular basis.
Carlo Ancelotti hinted intriguingly that he would spend the week exploring ways in which Torres and Didier Drogba can flourish in the same side before the team's next critical derby, against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, though it would still feel surprising if the re‑adopted 4-3-3 formation, with Drogaba at its tip, is abandoned while the side's title defence remains credible.
Ancelotti is still seeking "balance in the team" after almost three months with Torres at the club. At present, his role as a substitute flung on to stretch weary opponents softened up by Drogbaseems astute.
There will be relief that confidence is creeping back into Torres's game. The player himself thanked his team-mates – "They were trying to give the ball to me all the time" – and the faith the supporters retained in his ability. Ancelotti spoke of him as "a humble man, and that is the reason people love him".
"You can't change quality and you can't change a world-class player," Lampard said. "We all go through little patches like this and all the boys understood the pressure he was under. It does affect you if you go a few games without a goal. You start thinking about things rather than doing what's instinctive.
"I've seen him have a lot of misfortune in games: he's been given offside, keepers have made brilliant saves and even here he was almost tackled by a puddle. But he's not opened his mouth and said anything when he's been on the bench.
"He's come on and given everything. Now you're going to see him fly, whether that's in the remaining games of this season or next."
This is no time for Chelsea to be experimenting with systems, or indeed to return to shoehorning their most eye‑catching strikers into the same line-up. Ancelotti has rather stumbled back on a system of play that served his team so well last term. The only real concern from this contest was the injury sustained by Michael Essien – whose cartilage and knee ligament problems have interrupted his involvement in the past two seasons and which will require assessment this week once the swelling has receded. The re‑emergence of Mikel John Obi, and the imminent return of Ramires after hamstring problems, will be timely if Essien's campaign is deemed to be over.
While West Ham fret over their position in this division, Chelsea can aspire still to claim it, even if the scoreline here was deceptive. The conditions at Stamford Bridge, akin to a tropical storm at times, had players from both sides aquaplaning, the comical errors threatening to erode the lead eked out by Lampard on the stroke of half-time as Robbie Keane, Jonathan Spector and Demba Ba all threatened to haul West Ham level. The hosts survived in the deluge and had their own flurry of opportunities before Torres, and then Florent Malouda, emphatically in stoppage time, imposed order on the occasion.
The scenario has not changed for Ancelotti. The Italian must hope that Arsenal dent Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday and that Chelsea win their final four fixtures, including one at Old Trafford.
"Beat Tottenham on Saturday and we can put more pressure on United," the manager said. "We know that if we don't win one game, we lose our ambition. So for this reason there is pressure." Torres, at least, has found the release valve.