• West Ham told there was only a 4% chance of injury recurring
• Striker could be on bench for dogfight at Cardiff City
Sam Allardyce does not regret ploughing the vast bulk of last summer's transfer budget into the pursuit of Andy Carroll, a player who has yet to kick a ball in anger this season, as West Ham United prepare to welcome the England striker back to the bench for their critical Premier League game at Cardiff.
West Ham spent a club record £15m to make Carroll's loan move from Liverpool permanent despite the 25-year-old having torn the lateral plantar fascia on the outside of his right foot during the final game of last season. According to Allardyce, West Ham were told there was a "4%" chance of a recurrence of the injury, only for the forward to rupture the medial tendon in the same foot in September. He has since spent time with a specialist in Antwerp as part of a lengthy period of rehabilitation.
Yet Carroll has trained well over the last two weeks, with the manager – desperate to improve the mood after one league win in 13 matches and successive 5-0 and 6-0 defeats in the domestic cup competitions – prepared to take the "calculated risk" to restore him to the bench at Cardiff. "If we had our time over again, would we have signed him? Yes, on the information we had," Allardyce said. "It appeared that the risk of re-injury was about 4%. Unfortunately, for us and for him, Andy became one of the 4%. I don't think we'd be in this position if we'd had him fit.
"In the end, your leading front man will (influence) 50% of your team or more. It was proven to be the case for me when I signed Nicolas Anelka for Bolton from Fenerbahce: he contributed to more than 50% of the success we gained from then on. In some cases, the squad behind Nicolas got a bit weaker than it used to be, by players getting older and retiring like Fernando Hierro, Youri Djorkaeff and Jayjay Okocha. But with Nicolas there we ended up competing for the Champions League spots and targeting the top five or six, because he scored goals for us.
"If Manchester United's results are not going for them right now, it's because Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney haven't been there. Manchester City's whole team is brilliant but they've got so many great finishers it makes it easier for them to win matches. They put the ball in the net more than anyone else. You can't find more than one [great finisher] if you're a club like us. Even Arsenal, with Olivier Giroud, don't have too much more after that. What would Liverpool be without Luis Suárez? How difficult would it be without him? We've been without Andy all season. With him, we'd be an awful lot better."
West Ham travel to Cardiff to confront the side immediately above the cut-off with Allardyce's position effectively on the line, for all the messages of support issued this week by the co-chairmen, David Gold and David Sullivan.
The return of James Tomkins from injury has been offset by the loss of Joey O'Brien to a knock suffered at the Etihad Stadium, where the club's support made clear their desire for managerial change. The hope remains that James Collins, Ricardo Vaz Tê – who returned for the under-21s on Friday night – and Winston Reid should all be back in training before the end of the month.
There should be reinforcements by then, too, though Lacina Traoré's work permit request will go to a tribunal next week, while West Ham must still convince Parma to allow them to take Ishak Belfodil on loan from Internazionale. The former own a 50% stake in the player.
"It's been a tough few weeks but I'm still here and I'm still fighting," Allardyce said. "All I do is say why we are where we are, why results are bad. If I'd had a fully fit squad for the Christmas period and the cup games and the results had gone badly, I'd be really worried. I'm confident we'll get the players back to fitness and add to that.
"With Andy it's more about him being back in the squad than actually playing: the lift of having our major investment, a fantastic centre-forward, a great target man and a really good goalscorer … that's a boost for everyone, just having him back, given where we are at the moment. We've waited so long and so patiently for this moment to come. We've been in need of Andy for so many weeks now that the temptation is to try to rush these things, but you can't put the player at too much risk by trying to play him when he's not ready."