ANDY Carroll earned West Ham a hard-fought point in miserable conditions at Southampton today, bringing the hosts' three-match winning streak to an end.
The on-loan 24-year-old missed last weekend's trip to parent club Liverpool and made an immediate impact on his return to Sam Allardyce's starting line-up.
Having proved a nuisance all afternoon, the £35million striker fired low past Artur Boruc to deny Southampton a fourth win on the bounce.
Saints came closest to breaking the deadlock in a nondescript first half, with Jussi Jaaskelainen somehow tipping a close-range Rickie Lambert effort onto the post.
Carroll fired just wide 10 minutes into the second half and the hosts soon capitalised, with club record signing Gaston Ramirez netting.
The lead was to last just seven minutes, though, as Carroll found the net after firing home a short free-kick from Gary O'Neil to earn the east Londoners a point at their fellow promoted side.
Carroll was West Ham's only change at Southampton, who brought Danny Fox and Adam Lallana in for Luke Shaw and Jay Rodriguez after the pair fell ill during the week.
Lallana was quick to make an impact in a week in which he penned a new five-year deal, being denied inside two minutes by a late James Tomkins challenge.
Morgan Schneiderlin received the afternoon's first booking moments later after going down easy under a challenge from Kevin Nolan, who soon tested Artur Boruc from close range.
Ricardo Vaz Te was the next to go close, flashing a 25-yard drive just over, although play was fairly even.
James Collins and Tomkins both had to be alert to clear threatening balls from Nathaniel Clyne, before a Lallana cross just evaded Jack Cork at the back post.
In truth, neither side were creating many clear-cut opportunities as they struggled to keep possession in the wet and windy conditions.
Fox was booked for a sliding challenge on Guy Demel, before the Saints left-back almost gifted the visitors a goal.
The 26-year-old was easily turned on the wing by Vaz Te, whose pull back would have been turned in by Nolan was it not for Jos Hooiveld's intervention.
Tomkins reacted well to thwart Lallana from close range when play returned to the other end, with Jaaskelainen then superbly denying Lambert.
Ramirez floated in a free-kick to the backpost and the Saints forward prodded goalwards, only for the Hammers goalkeeper to superbly tip onto the post.
Suggestions the ball was over the line were waved away by referee Mike Dean, who soon booked Carroll for repeated dissent.
The officials were involved yet again as the half drew to a close Ramirez and Joey O'Brien tangled in the box before Lambert headed a Cork cross inches wide.
It was an exciting end to a tepid first half, with both sides struggling in the poor weather.
That continued after the break and it took until the 55th minute for the first chance of note, with Carroll flashing a strike inches wide after Saints failed to clear their lines.
The hosts took advantage of that miss by taking the lead just three minutes later.
Boruc's long ball up field was only cleared by Tomkins as far as Ramirez, who went through to net his fifth of the season. After the ball squirmed under a joint challenge from Collins and Tomkins, he coolly fired home past Jaaskelainen.
Saints were looking far from comfortable, though, and only a last-ditch Cork header prevented Nolan bundling home an equaliser.
However, the 2,740 visiting fans did not have to wait long for something to cheer about as West Ham won a free-kick on the edge of the box and O'Neil played it short for Carroll to fire low past Boruc via a slight deflection off Steven Davis.
Southampton brought on Rodriguez for Lallana in a bid to find a winner, with the in-form striker's first contribution to go on a run that brought a foul from substitute Emmanuel Pogatetz, who was booked for his challenge.
Carroll saw a low strike stopped by Boruc as he searched for his second, before coming back to deny Rodriguez at the other end.
Lambert hit a 20-yard free-kick at the West Ham wall late on and the visitors saw handball appeals against Hooiveld waved away, before Rodriguez tested Jaaskelainen from distance.