When the bat signal was finally visible, it was shining over the gloomy skies of the Welsh capital.
The silhouette of the hulking, ponytailed figure looked a little different to how we’d remembered it in the past. There was a bushy beard and, dare we admit it, even a few extra pounds, but there was little doubt that it was him. The city of Cardiff was about to witness the return.
Unlike Batman, Superman or any other superhero that might come to mind though, this was a return that was limited to 18 minutes in place of Carlton Cole. You wouldn’t find that one in the comic books.
Yet Andy Carroll must have seemed like a fictional figure to many West Ham supporters throughout this season; a campaign in which he didn’t kick a ball until those final 18 minutes at the Cardiff City Stadium.
The day had begun with such pressure on Hammers boss Sam Allardyce following the back-to-back losses to Nottingham Forest and Manchester City which had featured the ball going into the back of the West Ham net a combined 11 times.
Yet by the end of this game, Allardyce had seen his team keep a clean sheet, record a victory over a relegation rival and witness the return of their star striker, who for good measure chipped in with the pass which set up Mark Noble for the game-clinching goal late on in the 2-0 win.
Of course this being West Ham things didn’t go completely to plan, with goalkeeper Adrian required to keep out several efforts from the home side and James Tomkins red carded, but all that did was add to the sense of occasion.
This was a huge, potentially season-defining win for the Hammers, and the presence of Carroll on the pitch only added more to that feeling.
No longer a sideshow act to be gawked at as he was during his time at Liverpool – and indeed far from certain to claim his England place back in time for the World Cup – Carroll no longer has the pressures heaped upon him that we saw earlier in his career.
He was only a £35m player in the eyes of an excitable Damien Comolli and a blustering Anfield hierarchy with £50m from the sale of Fernando Torres burning a large hole in their pockets three years ago, and with that price tag and that level of scrutiny removed, the forward can thrive from here.
The situation that West Ham find themselves in should motivate him too. Down on their luck, written off and ridiculed in many quarters. He can relate.
Of course Carroll can’t do everything on his own, but the key element to his comeback is that it will lift those around him.
Suddenly Matt Jarvis and Stewart Downing will have someone to cross to that isn’t Cole or Modibo Maiga. Noble and Ravel Morrison have a real target man who they can feed off, and Kevin Nolan will have his mate back once he finally stops kicking people.
Carroll’s return is almost coinciding with the comeback of key centre-back Winston Reid too, with the New Zealander pencilled in for reappearance before the end of January, as per Physioroom.
But what Carroll really brings are senses of hope, defiance and inspiration. Suddenly Newcastle at home on Saturday looks a winnable game. It’s Chelsea away after that, but the following four fixtures after Stamford Bridge don’t look daunting at all.
Not with the superhero that West Ham have been waiting for all season back, at any rate.
With Carroll’s bright light above Cardiff could come the beginning of a renaissance.
Liverpool’s attacking SAS hide their defensive SOS
The reunion of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge couldn’t have come at a better time for Liverpool, who are straining to keep pace with the teams at the top.
As an attacking pair there are very few of the quality of the Reds duo anywhere on the continent, and Liverpool need them to perform to their best to hide the deficiencies going on behind the front two.
Defensively the Reds have been poor recently, with the constantly changing back four and goalkeeper Simon Mignolet letting themselves down.
The suspicion has to be that this is what will eventually cost them, but as long as their forwards keep firing then it is a problem which shouldn’t lead to the loss of points.
Potters to pain Palace’s Pulis
Stoke made errors in that madcap loss to Liverpool, but they played well and were unfortunate not to take anything from the game.
On Saturday they’ll come up against former boss Tony Pulis and Crystal Palace, and with plenty of Mark Hughes’ men feeling they’ve got a point to prove, an away win looks possible.
Back Stoke to beat Crystal Palace at 21/10 at BetMcClean.com