Craig Dawson was unable to secure 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 tried to reach the Champions League.
The 30-year-old center-half, on loan from Vicarage Road with little fanfare in October, headed his fourth Hammers goal to secure a 2-0 Premier League win over Leeds.
Dawson, whose transfer is almost certain to become permanent this summer, also capped a man-of-the-match game by knocking out a late deflection by Vladimir Coufal off the line.
His transformation has been almost as remarkable as that of West Ham, who struggled against relegation a year ago and is 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, attitude and determination are still worth it.
“We brought him in and it took him a while to get started, but now he has arrived, his experience was very important to us and he also added goals.”
Jesse Lingard, signing on loan from Moyes in January at Manchester United, opened the scoring when he took the rebound after his own penalty was saved by Illian Meslier.
Lingard, who won the shot on goal when he was knocked down by Luke Ayling, took on the penalty shootout duties from skipper Declan Rice.
“The two have been training on penalties together all week and competing,” Moyes added.
“As far as I’m concerned, Declan was taking them but Jesse was brave enough to take it.
“I wasn’t impressed with the penalty but I was happy with how quickly he got the rebound.
“The players are actually disappointed with the way they played, we didn’t feel like we had reached the level we’ve set this season – but that’s a good sign.”
Wasteful Leeds had two goals disallowed in the opening moments and Patrick Bamford wasted two glorious second-half chances.
Boss Marcelo Bielsa said: “We had an initial 15 minutes in the first half which was the best we have played in the game.
“We defended well and attacked well. The last 30 minutes of the first half, we stopped defending well, and it’s hard to attack when you don’t defend well.
“In the second half, we attacked well 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 must defend well. If we don’t defend well, we lose our balance.