As West Ham fans boarded the away coaches for the long journey to Cardiff in the early hours of Saturday morning, they could have been forgiven for fearing the worst. Two heavy cup defeats in the space of a week had compounded the bleak mood around the club with the team floundering in 19th in the league and Sam Allardyce's future hanging in the balance. A third loss on the spin would surely have sealed the manager's fate.
But there is a reason Allardyce has been spared the sack despite the rest of the bottom five all removing their managers in the first half of the season. Were he available when West Ham's four rivals opted for change, he would surely have led the list of potential replacements given his renowned ability to win a relegation battle. Allardyce may have got West Ham into this mess, but he is also the best man to get them out of it.
That was evident in the 2-0 win on Saturday as Cardiff's hopes for an immediate recovery under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer were quickly extinguished. There was none of the 'Allardici' nonsense about the Hammers' starting line-up on this occasion as a four-man defence was protected by a five-man midfield, with Carlton Cole selected as a lone target-man in attack. It was back to basics, backs to the wall and back to the sort of performance required to avoid the drop.
Never a man who is easy to love, Big Sam's biggest problem this season has been an emotional detachment from his role. Following Andre Villas-Boas' sacking at Spurs, Allardyce spoke of his reluctance to form a bond with the Hammers after his treatment by Newcastle and Blackburn, but the troubles of the past seven days have rekindled the fire in his belly. "You either come out fighting or you sink and die," he said after the defeat to Manchester City. "I come out fighting as a manager and my staff and players are the same."
The rallying cry certainly worked as the Hammers exhibited a battling spirit that has been missing in recent weeks and showed heartening resolve to resist Cardiff pressure in the second half. After a statuesque Allardyce barely blinked when Cole put the Hammers ahead before the break, co-commentator Trevor Francis said: "I think there would have been greater emotion if that goal had been scored in the 91st minute." It was a prophetic statement, as Mark Noble's injury-time strike left Allardyce jumping for joy on the touchline.
There was much for the manager to celebrate, not least Andy Carroll's return from injury to make his first appearance of the season as a second-half substitute. In truth, it was a difficult cameo for the striker, but his involvement in Noble's goal underlined what the Hammers have been missing. Suddenly Matt Jarvis and Stewart Downing have a better option to aim at from the flanks, while Kevin Nolan, if he can be trusted to keep his cool, can return to sniffing out the knock-downs that enabled him to reach double figures in top-flight goals last season.
Allardyce will also have been encouraged to see his team return to the top of the Premier League clean sheets table with their ninth of the season and first in eight matches, but his defensive concerns were equally exacerbated by an injury to Guy Demel and James Tomkins' red card. With Winston Reid still on the sidelines with an ankle injury, the manager could be forced to dip into the transfer market again, this time hoping to capture more quality than the limited Roger Johnson.
If reports are to be believed, David Gold and David Sullivan will back Allardyce with funds in January to plug the gaps in his fragile squad, but the manager needed a performance to prove he is worthy of their faith. Not only was that achieved on the pitch at Cardiff, but Allardyce's renewed ebullience is certain to help him curry favour. This was the Big Sam of old, and it was exactly what the Hammers needed to ease their fears after a nightmare week.
Matt Stanger - he's on the Twitter.