Scott Parker announced his return to the West Ham United side with an unforgettable winner in the vital 3-2 Barclays Premier League victory over Wigan Athletic.
The Hammer of the Year underlined why he is the favourite for this year's prize by capping his return from suspension with the decisive goal in an epic contest. With Hull City losing at home to Sunderland, the Hammers, who scored earlier through Ilan and Radoslav Kovac with Wigan on target through a Jonathan Spector own goal and Hugo Rodallega, could not have had a better day.
Barring a massive swing in goal-difference, Hull cannot overtake the Hammers. Burnley must win at Liverpool tomorrow to keep their own survival hopes alive.
Parker was back in the Hammers fold after being suspended for the last two matches, while Ilan was allowed to continue his fledgling partnership up front with Carlton Cole. There was no place in the matchday squad for Luis Boa Morte, who has battled back to fitness after a serious knee injury last July.
West Ham started on the offensive, with a flowing move seeing the ball eventually reach Julien Faubert in an advanced position on the right wing but the cross was high, wide and not so handsome. It was to be the story of a scrappy match punctuated by a match-winning goal of stunning quality from Parker.
Disaster struck as early as the fourth minute when Spector nodded a Ben Watson corner beyond Robert Green to the surprise of everyone in the stadium. It was a Hammer blow but the home side were to be afforded a golden chance to get back into the contest just five minutes later.
Cole was played in through the middle after an Ilan mis-control. He rounded goalkeeper Chris Kirkland and, although unsteady on his feet, sent the ball rolling towards the goal - only for Gary Caldwell to recover and clear off the line.
Valon Behrami twice tumbled in the penalty area but neither appeal stood up, while Charles N'Zogbia fizzed in an effort to the left of Robert Green's goal but it never troubled the England No1. Green was needed on 31 minutes though, stretching to palm a fierce McCarthy shot on to the crossbar.
They say a save can be worth a goal and it truly meant that in this instance. The Hammers roared up the other end before Cole stole away to the left of goal. He held off two markers before rolling the ball across the area for Ilan to slide in his fourth in claret and blue.
With Mark Noble crunching his way into tackle after tackle, Zola's men looked a different team. Wigan meanwhile had to reorganise with Marcelo Moreno injured in attack, meaning Victor Moses came on as a left-winger and Rodallega moved into a central striker's role. It was a menacing move in many ways but the Hammers were to strike next.
In the fifth minute of added time, after a lengthy delay for Kirkland's facial injury earlier, Noble fired in a fierce free-kick. The Wigan keeper got a hand to the shot as it curled to the corner but Kovac was on hand to nod into the net and lift the roof off the Boleyn Ground.
Surely it would be the basis for a comfortable second half? No such luck. The Hammers were listless after the break, save for one run from Ilan, and by the 52nd minute Wigan were level. Mohamed Diame's shot was deflected wide and for the second time from a corner, Watson produced the goods. This time, Rodallega converted at the back post after a near-post flick-on caused mayhem.
Frustration reigned again, summed up by Spector's yellow card for a foul on N'Zogbia. The French winger then saw his free-kick well saved by Green. Then West Ham went close, with Kovac looping a header on to the Wigan crossbar. Still the Hammers kept going, with Parker driving them on.
Indeed such was one run from the great No8 that Titus Bramble earned a yellow card for his 'any means necessary' foul. Zola replaced a limping Ilan for Guille Franco for the closing stages with the home fans having sung his name as he warmed up in front of the Bobby Moore Stand. The only singing on 77 minutes, though, was for Parker.
The reigning Hammer of the Year set off on another surge forward before letting fly from 25 yards with a piledriver into the corner of Kirkland's goal. It was a season-defining moment and the midfielder rightly celebrated in style. After taking the congratulations from his team-mates, he ran straight to his manager.
Wigan were still a threat as the game ticked away but they were unable to spoil the party, with only a Watson effort from distance giving Green any real scare. Parker needed treatment as the game went into four minutes of added time and it was fair to say a few in the crowd would be forgiven for needing the same attention from the physio, such was the tension. The Hammers held on, though, and are surely now just a Burnley defeat or draw away from safety.