It was a 35-minute cameo that took you back in time to a period in Andy Carroll’s career when he was a force of nature in a Newcastle United shirt, a one man demolition team who could unsettle and unnerve even the most streetwise backline. No wonder he has been trying to come home for years.
His performance against Southampton may have surprised some, but not Carroll, as the striker revealed he is playing without any pain in his ankle for the first time in years. He is also far more appreciative of what means to represent his hometown than when he was teenager, making his name, before that British record £35m move to Liverpool in January 2011.
It was a move that was impossible for either club or player to reject, but Carroll revealed for the first time that he has been trying to re-sign for Newcastle almost ever since.
“I’ve said it to a few people, I appreciate playing for this club a lot more,” said Carroll, after transforming Newcastle’s game against Southampton with an assist for Jonjo Shelvey to head in the equaliser.
“Making my debut, starting the other day [against Sheffield United], creating goals, winning games, I appreciate it a lot more. I didn’t really get the chance to appreciate it the last time.
“I just kind of thought everyone got that chance at 17. I didn’t really understand it as much as I do now. Coming back, it’s a massive club, massive stadium, massive fans. It’s part of me growing up.
“Honest to God, I’ve been trying to come back and wanting [sic] to come back for years. I would have regretted it if I didn’t get to step on the pitch in the black and white again. I definitely would have regretted it.”
It finally happened in the summer after another injury ravaged season at West Ham, when Newcastle took a gamble on their former youth team player, offering him a one-year contract, even though his fitness record in London was atrocious.
Newcastle needed another centre forward and, if he could stay fit, there are not many better in the Premier League. It was a big if. Carroll stared just 84 Premier League games for West Ham in his seven years in East London and 22 of those were in his first season, on loan from Liverpool.
But Sunday showed why it was a risk worth taking. Carroll’s ankle problem needs to be carefully managed, but he is training every day, either in the gym or on the grass and a second operation on the joint seems to have cleared things up. At the age of 30, he looks more athletic, fitter, more supple, than he did at West Ham.
“The ankle, it’s no problem at all,” he explained. “I don’t even think about it. It’s brilliant. It was hard when the ankle was playing up, but as you can see it’s the same size as the other one, when in the past, it hasn’t been
“It’s feeling good. I like to get myself about, so it’s been tough when I haven’t been mobile and been a bit stiff. But I’m feeling good. I’m working hard in the gym and with the staff. I’m protecting myself through the weeks training, with the manager helping with the days and what I do and what I don’t do.”
Carroll will almost certainly start against Burnley, particularly as Joelinton, the £40m summer buy from Hoffenheim, was anonymous at the weekend. The doubts about him continue to grow
Bruce has some difficult decisions to make about team selection heading into Christmas, but he must not risk Carroll too much because a 30-minute cameo is better than nothing at all.
“I think I would have been ok to start against Southampton,” Carroll added. “But I completely understand what the gaffer says and there is no point in risking it. He’ll use me when I’m needed. It’s shown with his tactics against Sheffield and again against Southampton. He changed formation and we went and won.
“He’s been brilliant. It was obviously topsy turvy at the beginning, he wasn’t really everyone’s cup of tea. But I think he’s proving everyone wrong. His tactics last week… We drew against City, we beat Tottenham, Man United, Sheffield United, Southampton. Seven points in a week is great.”