LONDON • West Ham United manager Slaven Bilic described Dimitri Payet as "top class" after the playmaker underlined his importance to the club by inspiring a 3-1 Premier League comeback victory at Bournemouth on Tuesday.
Playmaker Payet, signed from French Ligue 1 side Marseille in the close season, was one of the key figures in the London team's bright early form. But an ankle problem meant that he was making his first league start since Nov 7.
He reminded the fans what they had been missing by scoring West Ham's equaliser with a wonderful free kick in a win that moved them up to fifth in the table, on the verge of the Champions League qualification places.
After Harry Arter had given the hosts the lead with a long-distance strike in the 17th minute, Payet fired a set piece into the top corner midway through the second half before teeing up Enner Valencia for a simple tap-in.
Valencia rounded off the scoring with another free kick in the 84th minute.
"Dimitri is that kind of player - top class," Bilic said. "We waited for him to come back and he makes a difference.
"He is an individual in the last third of the pitch but with his presence, he makes the other players better and that is why we got him.
"I expect him to play like this and he is still not 100 per cent fit."
Payet's influence is clear. In the eight league games in which he was ruled out, West Ham won just two (25 per cent). In the 13 games he has featured in, they won seven - or 54 per cent.
The Hammers' scored an average of just 0.7 goal per game in his absence, compared to two goals when the Frenchman is on the pitch.
Only Arsenal's assist king Mesut Oezil has created more chances per Premier League match (4.42) than Payet (3.71).
"I'm very happy because I don't play for two months," said Payet, 28. "I'm very happy I can play, and (get a) good goal, good assist."
The result, however, was marred by Andy Carroll's latest injury setback. The injury-prone West Ham striker, who has scored twice in the last three league games, pulled up with a hamstring problem and left the pitch after 15 minutes.
"It's a big blow for us because he started this game good," Bilic told the BBC of a player who returned to first-team action only in September after a seven-month spell out following knee surgery. "I don't understand it because we're resting the players. We're not training a lot. We can only hope it won't last that long."