A Christmas Carroll

I was delighted for Andy Carroll this weekend.

After all the pre-match talk revolving around the fact that we signed Andy Carroll over Wilfried Bony, seeing the latter slot one past Adrian in the opening 15 minutes of Sunday's Premier League clash against Swansea simply added insult to injury.

At times in the first half I was worried about the style of football we were playing, going back to being very direct and pumping everything long towards Carroll. Then the big Geordie pulled a header right out of the top drawer, nestled it right in the top corner and the mood changed.

He added another and an assist to cap a wonderful individual performance, sending a huge reminder to all of us just why we were demanding the permanent signature of the powerful front man on the last day of his loan move from Liverpool.

Since that day in May of last year, it obviously hasn't gone to plan. The injury picked up in that game not only deprived him of more than half the season, but combined with his sending off for the assault on Chico Flores' pony tail cost him the chance to pick up any sort of momentum to try and force his way onto the plane to Brazil.

The injury Jinx struck again this year and has left Carroll kicking his heels on the sidelines once more. Hopes are that his timely return - just in time to give Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia a chance to recover from their own minor injuries - results in the sort of form that convinced our owners to part with huge sums of money to sign him.

It cannot have been easy for Carroll, over the past few years. I myself am guilty of thinking of footballers are just that, footballers. The image of them living and breathing football, lives revolving around the football club, always kitted out in some of the club's attire as if they live in some 1950s comic book is one I still picture to this day.

I sometimes forget they are people, just like you and I and that they are fathers, uncles, brothers and sons and that real life scenarios affect them just as they affect us.

When Liverpool decided to break their transfer record to sign the young Newcastle number nine, it was a deal that they just couldn't turn down. Yet they stopped just short of putting his coat and hat on for him and pushing him out of the door.

He must have envisaged playing in Cup Finals and challenging for honours but after only a-year-and-a-half, was packing his bags once again and heading to the smoke.

The incoming Rodgers didn't fancy Carroll. He wasn't in his plans, so he was shipped out on a season-long loan initially , with an option for the deal to be made permanent.

You can't really count that as settling in as he was probably living out of a hotel (or doing another stint on Kev's sofa), not really knowing what would happen at the end of the season. Alas, we put our money where our mouth is and tied him to a six-year deal.

When he returned in January we were in a bit of a predicament. Although improving, it wasn't great for him to come back to a struggling side, playing a lone striker role.

There must have been times last year when he was sitting alone, recovering from injury, looking at a Premier League table that we were propping up when he must have wondered where it had all gone wrong.

Leaving the comfort and familiarity of your boyhood club to challenge for honours only to end up 300 miles from your friends and family in order to get involved in a relegation scrap with West Ham. To top things off, the club you just left are fighting for the title. I reckon that might feel like a swift kick in the nuts.

This season I found myself wondering whether Andy would be seeking a transfer on his return. With his starting place no longer guaranteed I thought he may just ask to go back home. Of course, there was plenty of that talk at the beginning of the season and although I take the papers about as seriously as a Japanese game show, I thought that story may have some legs.

Then we discovered that he had just got engaged to a beautiful girl from Essex, and I thought he may just be settling in nicely down here.

Unplayable at times, Andy Carroll is one of the finest headers of a football in the game. His goal tally doesn't always tell the story of his performances. He causes so much havoc in and around the opposition's penalty area as so many players have one eye on what he is doing that it affords people like Kevin Nolan time and space to score more goals.

Last season it was only Kev that could do that. This season we have so many attacking goal threats that teams can ill-afford to just watch Andy - and it may just give him the chance to score a good haul himself, as per the free header for his second on Sunday, The partnership with Sakho looks promising, too.

He still looks firmly our main man, Sam's first choice, but with the quality added around him as long as he stays fit, he can really assert himself in the side. With the busy Christmas period fast approaching, his game sharpness will only improve.

I believe Sunday's performance by Andy was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what he can achieve and maybe, after climbing to third, what we can as a team. Spain's domination of European football has done its best to kill off the old fashioned number nine.

But with the death of tika taka, strikers like Andy could be in high demand once again. We may just have got ours just in time.

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