Jan 13 (Reuters) - Andy Carroll's belated first appearance of the season has boosted morale at the struggling West Ham United but assistant manager Neil McDonald has warned against pushing the big striker too hard as the club scraps for its Premier League life.
Carroll played the final 20 minutes in his side's much-needed 2-0 win over Cardiff City on Sunday, making an immediate impact as his pass teed up Mark Noble for the crucial second goal in injury time.
The win was West Ham's first success in eight league games, and followed two humiliating cup defeats to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup and Manchester City in the first leg of their League Cup semifinal which saw them concede 11 goals without troubling the opposition goalkeepers.
The win eased some of the pressure on manager Sam Allardyce and moved them out of the relegation zone on goal difference.
Carroll, who had not played since his club record 15 million pounds ($24.73 million) move from Liverpool, having spent last season at the east London club on loan, is seen as crucial to their hopes of survival, but McDonald said they did not want to overload him as he eased his way back to full fitness.
"We've got to build Andy's match fitness up but be careful not to push him too far or too fast," he told the club's official website (www.whufc.com).
"I don't think we're concerned about his foot injury and we've just got to make sure he doesn't get another injury. It was good to see him coming on for 20 minutes and making an impact."
The club was hoping to organise a training match for the 25-year-old England international, although he was already eyeing the next league match, a return to his hometown club Newcastle United.
"Getting back on the pitch is unbelievable," he was quoted as saying by the Daily Express.
"The next game is Newcastle and hopefully I get a few more minutes and we get a win. It will be nostalgic for me. They are my hometown team. I am looking forward to it - but it could have been anyone. I've been out for too long."
He admitted it had been a frustrating experience watching his team struggle on the pitch, with recurring foot injuries keeping him on the sideline since May.
"It has been frustrating and terrible for us, but I can forget about all that and think about my football," he added.
"I can't stand being on the sidelines - it drives me crazy.
"Now I'm concentrating on getting match fit. I did OK after a few dodgy touches. I needed the pass for the goal to forget about them. I'm feeling no twinges, so it couldn't be better."
($1 = 0.6066 British pounds) (Reporting By Josh Reich; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)