Craig Dawson could not get a game for Watford in the Championship but is now a key figure for David Moyes and “worthy” of a permanent deal as West Ham bid to reach the Champions League.
The 30-year-old centre-half, signed on loan from Vicarage Road to little fanfare in October, headed his fourth Hammers goal to wrap up a 2-0 Premier League win over Leeds.
Dawson, whose transfer is almost certain to be made permanent in the summer, also capped a man-of-the-match display by clearing a late goalbound deflection off Vladimir Coufal off the line.
His transformation has been almost as remarkable as West Ham’s, who were battling relegation a year ago and are now knocking on the door of the top four.
Delighted Hammers manager Moyes said: “We’re not there yet with a permanent deal but his performances and his attitude and determination are worthy of that anyway.
“We brought him in and it took him a while to get starts but now he’s come in, his experience has been really important to us and he has been adding goals as well.”
Jesse Lingard, Moyes’ January loan signing from Manchester United, opened the scoring when he snaffled the rebound after his own penalty had been saved by Illian Meslier.
Lingard, who won the spot-kick when he was brought down by Luke Ayling, took penalty-taking duties off skipper Declan Rice.
“Both of them have been practising penalties together all week and having competitions,” added Moyes.
“As far as I was concerned Declan was taking them but Jesse was brave enough to take it.
“I wasn’t impressed with the penalty but I was pleased with the speed he got the rebound.
“The players are actually disappointed with how they played, we didn’t feel we reached the standard we’ve set this season – but that’s a good sign.”
Wasteful Leeds had two goals disallowed in the opening moments and Patrick Bamford squandered two glorious second-half opportunities.
Boss Marcelo Bielsa said: “We had an initial 15 minutes in the first half which was the best we played in the game.
“We defended well and attacked well. The final 30 minutes of the first half we stopped defending well, and it’s difficult to attack when you don’t defend well.
“In the second half we attacked and defended well. We had 60 minutes of good football and we conceded in 30 minutes.
“When they attacked they managed to score two goals. We are a team that needs to defend well. If we do not defend well we lose the equilibrium.”
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