Andy Carroll displayed impeccable timing this weekend – not only in twice rising in the air and sending commanding headers into the Swansea goal, the first via Leon Brittan – but also sending a reminder to West Ham of what he can do amid the joy at their super Premier League form.
Carroll’s brace pushed the Hammers into the Premier League’s top four but the former Newcastle and Liverpool striker has had to sit out most of the campaign to date. He only returned from a lengthy injury lay-off in early November and his 41st-minute goal was not just his first of the season, but his first since March. Much has changed at Upton Park since Carroll was last on the score sheet.
Back then Sam Allardyce was among the favourites to lose his job as the supporters rounded on the manager. The 2013-14 season ended with West Ham scoring barely more than a goal a game – 40 in 38 – and only seven points off the relegation zone. Carroll himself managed just two goals all season, matching that tally in 25 minutes against the Swans and earning 50
The West Ham fans were said to be demanding more attacking football from their team and the signing of Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia were intended to realise that request. The unsaid subplot was that it would spell the end of Carroll as Allardyce’s first-choice striker. It seemed a dream match, Allardyce’s perceived propensity for long-ball football and Carroll’s aerial dominance, but for suffering West Ham fans it was more of a nightmare.
Carroll’s nightmare was long-term injuries and he may argue that with only 45 appearances in two-and-a-half seasons, the West Ham fans haven’t seen the best of him. Carroll has netted 11 goals in that time and Allardyce’s revelation prior to the visit of Swansea that he signed Carroll over Wilfried Bony, the Welsh club’s 32-goal forward, didn’t help perceptions of the 25-year-old as an expensive flop.
More performances such as against Swansea will banish those suggestions for good. It was telling that it was to the West Ham medical staff that Carroll ran to celebrate and if he is truly over his injury problems then he is another weapon in Allardyce’s armoury. And West Ham showed how to get the best out of Carroll and satisfy the supporters who want more attractive football – there was little ugly about his first goal, a stunning leap and well-placed head to meet Carl Jenkinson’s far post delivery.
West Ham committed players forward and sent quality balls into the box, rather than leave Carroll to fight a lone battle for balls dropping high out of the sky having been hoofed out of defence. Swansea couldn’t live with the England international and few teams have coped with West Ham this year either. With more of this sort of thing, Carroll could be troubling some continental defences next year.