On the whole, West Ham United’s start to the 2014/15 campaign has been a positive one. However, after Saturday’s 3-1 home defeat to Southampton, some fans are asking the question: Are we realising how much we need Andy Carroll?

After Carroll’s surprise signing in 2012/13, the Irons finished 10th in the table. Sam Allardyce’s plan appeared to be to retain a strong defence and play with one striker.

Carroll’s loan period in East London was impressive, so when the possibility of making his deal from Liverpool permanent came about Allardyce sealed matters and added pace out wide by signing Stuart Downing to support Matt Jarvis. But almost immediately the former Newcastle United man’s injury curse struck again.

With little money available in the club’s transfer budget to fill the gap, Allardyce tried to cope with the existing options he had in the striking department.

With Carroll unavailable for a lengthy period, Allardyce had to start the season playing Modibo Maiga to fill the void, but things didn’t work out for Maiga and after a number of games he was dropped.

The club had a disastrous start to the season only winning one of their first six games. To add to that, they only scored three goals in the process.

Carroll eventually returned to action in January and fortunately this coincided with a turn in form for the team and somehow they obtained enough points to finish in the relative safety of 13th place.

Shortly after the season’s end, the Board called a meeting to discuss the way forward for the forth-coming campaign. It was suggested that if Allardyce was to remain at the helm, then David Sullivan and David Gold wanted to see more entertaining football to excite the club’s loyal fan base. This plan appears to be taking shape, as the club have brought in nine new signings and sold only one major member of the squad from last season.

The manager has added pace upfront with the additions of Enner Valencia, Mauro Zarate and Diafra Sakho, as well as adding quicker midfielders such as Cheikou Kouyate and Diego Poyet. Despite being on the wrong end of home defeats to Tottenham Southampton, as well as elimination from the Capital One Cup by Sheffield United, the team did play well on both occasions and have already picked up three points away from home thanks to the win against Crystal Palace.

The strengthening of the squad did not stop there, as Allardyce also added pace to the midfield with the loan signing of Alex Song and the purchase of Morgan Amalfitano late in the transfer window. These signings should also add to West Ham’s goal threat.

So what does this mean for Carroll when he recovers from injury? There is no doubt that when he plays he is a big presence and opposition teams are intimidated by him. However, it does mean the team’s style of play tends to be one-dimensional and good service is a pre-requisite. He is injury-prone and there is no real direct replacement.

Many supporters have grown used to Carroll’s absence and the new strategy does offer more flexibility. There is now pace in both the midfield and wide areas. There are also more replacement options and the capability to change game plan when needed.

With all this in mind, it must be remembered that we are only four games into the campaign so it is very early days to judge how effective these changes are going to be. Even though the Hammers are still looking to get off the mark at home, there has been some entertaining football played. There is a widely held assumption that Carroll will fit into the new system but his reported return is still many weeks away.

If the new strategy proves successful it does pose the question as to whether the Big Man has a future in East London. The next few months could be very interesting…