It is amazing the difference a £35m striker can make. Without Andy Carroll, West Ham's season had rather ground to a halt, winning only twice while the striker recovered from the knee injury he suffered at the end of November.
Carlton Cole and Marouane Chamakh had turned out to be rather underwhelming deputies and West Ham were in danger of being dragged into a relegation battle, so imagine the relief around Upton Park when Carroll found a way past the magnificent Gerhard Tremmel to end Swansea City's stout resistance with 13 minutes remaining.
Despite starting Carroll after his return to fitness, Sam Allardyce did not expect the striker to last 90 minutes but he was the game's outstanding player, a threat in the air and surprisingly nifty on the ground too. His contribution was vital and the West Ham manager knew he could not take him off, not while the game remained so delicately poised.
"It's his first full 90 minutes in nine weeks," Allardyce said. "The only other participation he's had was a few minutes at Fulham. There didn't look to be any fatigue there, so we left him on." The gamble paid off and West Ham are nine points clear of the bottom three.
This was inevitably billed as "A Clash Of Styles", West Ham's blood and thunder against Swansea's slick ball-hoggers, and the game largely lived up to expectations. West Ham were intent on finding Carroll and his partnership with his old pal, Kevin Nolan, was fruitful. Nolan went close three times in the first half, but saw one volley deflected wide and another saved by Tremmel. His best chance, though, came after Joey O'Brien fooled Ben Davies on the right and whipped a low cross towards the near post, only for Tremmel to deny Nolan with his feet.
Swansea, looking to extend a run of seven matches unbeaten in the league, were disappointing. They passed the ball impressively but struggled to test Jussi Jaaskelainen and West Ham, who had not kept a clean sheet in their previous 10 matches, were comfortable for long periods. It was difficult to agree with Michael Laudrup's assertion that Swansea merited more. This was a sixth consecutive game without a goal for Michu and when the opportunity presented itself midway through the second half, first he slashed wide from an angle and then headed over from Pablo Hernández's cross.
Hernández, a constant thorn in Matt Taylor's side, was Swansea's best outfield player but too often his team-mates were not on the same wavelength and Tremmel was by far the busier goalkeeper. Standing in for the injured Michel Vorm, he also pushed out a firm drive from Ricardo Vaz Tê just before half-time and West Ham's exasperation grew when he stuck out a foot to divert Carroll's shot with 20 minutes remaining.
Allardyce has bemoaned the failings of his forwards this season and it seemed like it was going to be one of those days when Carroll blazed over from 15 yards out, before Mohamed Diamé's overhead kick went the same way.
On came Joe Cole, against the side who were the opposition when he made his professional debut for West Ham in January 1999, and on 77 minutes he won a corner on the left. Mark Noble swung it in and Carroll towered above Ashley Williams, heading firmly past Tremmel from six yards. It was his second goal of the season and his first at Upton Park. "We know how good he is in the air," Laudrup said. "Inside the box he's very dangerous."
The goal roused Swansea and West Ham endured some nervy moments in a frantic finale. Ki Sung-yueng shot from 25 yards out, Jaaskelainen saved and then held the follow-up from Davies. West Ham seemed certain to crack, but, after two absurd goalmouth scrambles in the dying minutes, they clung on.
"We were under pressure today to produce a result," Allardyce said. "Our performance today deserved a victory. It's a relief having gone eight games with only five points. For us we should be looking up now rather than down. The way we've played at home all year has been fantastic. It was just a shame it couldn't be by more goals."