When referee Howard Webb sent Andy Carroll off in West Ham United’s 2-0 victory over Swansea City at the start of February most of the supporters, and most certainly the coaching staff, thought it was the incorrect decision to brandish a straight red card, especially as all at Upton Park had been waiting for him to make his second home debut since signing permanently from Liverpool in the summer.
After the match, manager Sam Allardyce said the club would appeal the decision, but after learning that their efforts had failed, the management team and the players were obviously disappointed. They have since used the news, however, as a springboard for their current form as, together with the encounter against the Swans, they have managed to win all their fixtures played so far this month.
Since the turn of the year, West Ham have only lost two league matches which begs the question, why were they so inconsistent in the first part of the season? The obvious answer from most people connected with the club was the loss of the Newcastle born striker after suffering a re-occurrence of the foot injury he picked up in training in early September.
The proof of this seemed to come when Carroll was named on the bench for the first time for the Hammers’ 2-0 away win at Cardiff City on 11 January; his return appeared to have a great impact. Although they suffered a defeat in the following game when Newcastle United went away with all three points after a 3-1 win, their form following this has certainly taken a turn for the better and it is difficult not to link this to Carroll’s return.
Thankfully, in his first home league start since joining the club on a permanent basis, they were already 2-0 ahead before his sending-off and he played a major part in both the goals as he set them up for his friend and teammate Kevin Nolan.
After this sending-off it cast doubt in the minds of the majority of the fans as to whether the team would then be able to push on up the table without the striker. This has not been a problem to date as in the two matches he has missed they have come out on the right end of a 2-0 scoreline.
The manager confirmed that in the break between the Norwich and Southampton matches, the players would be going on a warm weather training camp to Dubai, which is something Big Sam has been doing with his various clubs for the last 14 years.
It could well be that the promise of some time away may have raised spirits and kept the Hammers going strong. We will have to wait to see what effect this has on Saturday’s game.
With Carroll’s three match ban due to end after this weekend’s meeting with Southampton, Big Sam will obviously want to throw him straight back into the side when the East Londoners make the trip to Goodison Park to face Everton on 1 March. The question he must be asking himself is whether he should make alterations to a winning team, but on the other hand, the inclusion of Carroll may give West Ham’s chances of top-flight survival a further boost.
It is more than likely that Carroll will return in lone striker role; if so, fans might call into question the futures of both Carlton Cole and Marco Borriello who both signed for the club on short-term deals.
Cole was re-signed by the club after the extent of Carroll’s injury became clear, while Allardyce realised that he didn’t have enough strikers at the club and secured a deal to bring Borriello in from AS Roma.
With Carroll back to fitness, the futures of the other strikers are unclear, however in case Carroll suffers another or a re-occurrence of a previous injury, Allardyce may decide to keep options in his back pocket.