LONDON (Reuters) – West Ham United manager Slaven Bilic described Dimitri Payet as “top class” after the playmaker underlined his importance to the club by inspiring a 3-1 Premier League comeback victory at Bournemouth on Tuesday.
Playmaker Payet, signed from Olympique Marseille in the close season, was one of the key figures in the London team’s bright early form but was making his first league start since Nov. 7 after recovering from an ankle problem.
He reminded the fans what they had been missing by scoring West Ham’s equaliser with a wonderful free kick in a win that moved them up to fifth in the table, on the verge of the Champions League qualification places.
After Harry Arter had given the hosts the lead with a long-distance strike in the 17th minute, Payet fired a set-piece into the top corner midway through the second half before teeing up Enner Valencia for a simple tap-in.
Valencia rounded off the scoring with another free kick in the 84th minute.
“Dimitri is that kind of player — top class,” Bilic said. “We waited for him to come back and he makes a difference.
“He is an individual in the last third of the pitch but with his presence he makes the other players better and that is why we got him.
“I expect him to play like this and he is still not 100 percent fit.”
West Ham are a point behind fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur after three straight league wins.
Bilic’s men are also just seven points adrift of leaders Arsenal although all of the top four have played a game fewer.
West Ham next visit struggling Newcastle United on Saturday.
(Reporting by Toby Davis; Editing by Tony Jimenez)