Saido Berahino was praising Nicolas Anelka's contribution to this much deserved draw for West Bromwich Albion when he described him as someone who "leads by example on and off the field". Little did the striker know then that those words would soon take on a different and distinctly dark connotation.

Anelka is under investigation by the Football Association for the quenelle gesture, described in some quarters as the "reverse Nazi salute", which he made while celebrating the first of his two goals at Upton Park. Despite the Frenchman's insistence that it was done in "special dedication to my comedian friend Dieudonné", he could yet be banned for a minimum of five matches under FA anti-discriminatory rules.

Such a sanction could well spell the end, in England at least, of a career that has never been short of drama.

From forcing a move from Arsenal to Real Madrid in 1999, to refusing to bow in front of team-mates during his brief spell at Shanghai Shenhua, Anelka has proved himself a troubled and troubling figure ever since catching the eye as a teenager at Paris Saint-Germain in the mid-1990s. It was felt that a nadir had been reached when Anelka was expelled from France's 2010 World Cup squad after insulting the then head coach Raymond Domenech, but events at the weekend suggest that, at the age of 34, the player has managed to sink even lower.

Given the notoriety the quenelle has gained in France ever since Dieudonné M'Bala M'Bala, a figure known for harbouring antisemitic views, first used it in 2009, it is inconceivable that Anelka was not aware of the outrage he would unleash by performing it in east London.

West Bromwich Albion's caretaker manager, Keith Downing, gave his support to Anelka in the aftermath of Saturday's game but that was before he had been able to fully digest the exact nature of what the striker had done, and should he be charged and banned by the FA then that could well prove to be that for Anelka at West Brom, whom he joined on a free transfer last July on a one-year deal.

Given his age and baggage, it is conceivable that "Le Sulk" would find it difficult to attract a seventh different club from these shores to take on his services.

Saturday's controversy overshadowed what was an excellent display by Anelka. Making just his eighth appearance for West Bromwich after a period at the Hawthorns interrupted by illness, injury and tragedy (Anelka took compassionate leave in August following the death of his agent Eric Manasse), the forward played with guile and intelligence, scoring his first and second goals for the club in the space of five first-half minutes, the first a cool finish following Chris Brunt's defence-splitting pass and the second, which put the visitors 2-1 up, an instinctive shot from close range.

Here was evidence of why clubs such as Arsenal, Real, Liverpool, Chelsea and Juventus have all signed Anelka and, until a storm of outrage broke around him, there was a sense that he had finally got going as a West Brom player.

Behind the scenes, at least, it appears Anelka has proved a welcome addition to the club's ranks, with Berahino, who scored the visitors' third goal with a fizzing drive, praising the veteran as a positive influence on his fellow frontmen. "He's passed on a lot of experience to me, Victor Anichebe and Matej Vydra," said the England Under-21 striker. "Just watching him in training – he's got good movement, always thinking ahead. He is a good guy and a great footballer."

Anelka undoubtedly played a key role in West Bromwich securing what was a third successive draw under Downing, and as the club continue to search for a long-term successor to Steve Clarke there were definite signs that they maintain the quality to escape relegation trouble.

The same can also be said of West Ham who, having lost the lead given to them by Joe Cole's early goal, showed admirable resilience in going 3–2 up thanks to Modibo Maïga and Kevin Nolan's well-taken second-half goals.

However, this was the third league game in succession in which they have conceded three times, and the boos that rang out after the final whistle suggest Sam Allardyce is under increasing pressure ahead of the Hammers' crucial visit to Fulham on New Year's Day.

"What will be, will be," said Allardyce when told he is now favourite among many bookmakers to become the next sacked Premier League manager. "In my defence, we've had six or seven players out injured for weeks. If I had them all playing we'd probably be around 10th."

Man of the match Chris Brunt (West Bromwich Albion)