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Opinion

Is Steve Bruce getting the best out of Andy Carroll, or Andy Carroll simply past his best?

6 months ago
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I remember the 2009-10 season in the Championship when the question wasn’t so much ‘are we going to win?’, instead more of a case of ‘how many are we going to win by?’

A huge part of our success that season was the continuing emergence of a local lad who knew how to put the ball in the back of the net.

Andy Carroll had been prolific, scoring 19 goals in all competitions that season as a 20 / 21 year old.

Such was his form, Chris Hughton gave him the coveted number 9 shirt for the 2010-11 season back in the Premier League. We had finally found someone capable of living up to the expectations as our number 9.

Fast forward to yesterday’s disappointing defeat against Aston Villa, yet another game in which a man previously trusted to score goals failed to find the back of the net. A far cry from the first game of the 2010/11 season against Aston Villa when our number 9 scored a hat-trick in an emphatic 6-0 win at St. James Park.

Yesterday, the partnership between Wilson and Carroll proved ineffective once again, registering just one (not really needing a save) shot on target between them as Newcastle extended their winless run to 10 games in all competitions.

But is it Bruce’s tactics, rather than Carroll’s performances, that have hampered his ability to find the net regularly this term, as well as limiting the effectiveness of the strike partnership in terms of overall team play?

Certainly, on the surface it seems that Carroll is playing a lot without many returns, but should he be the scapegoat for a largely underperforming team?

Carroll has 17 appearances this season in all competitions, starting six and being substituted on in 11. In this time, he has managed to record just one goal, averaging 568 minutes per goal (or even worse, one goal every 1,278 minutes for Newcastle United these past 18 months).

It can be very easy to look at these statistics and conclude that Carroll himself is to blame for his desperate record in front of goal this season (and last). However, when you look closer at the statistics and the tactics Bruce deploys when Carroll plays, it is clear to see why a player who thrives off having supply from the wings is struggling to find the net.

In the six starts Carroll has made this season, Newcastle have lined up with a 4-4-2 formation four times. During these games, Allan Saint-Maximin, arguably Newcastle’s most direct winger, has played only twice. Jeff Hendrick, a wide midfielder not known for his ability to beat a man but rather his energy and work rate, has featured three times. Steve Bruce’s decision making is having a detrimental effect on Carroll’s effectiveness; in three of these six games Carroll has actually been replaced by a winger, including yesterday against Aston Villa. It surely makes little sense to substitute the ‘target man’ and replace him with the very type of player he would thrive off?

At any club Andy Carroll has been at, he has been lauded for his ability to cause problems in the opposition box and scored headed goals; out of the 80 goals Carroll has scored across his career in club football, 36 of them were headed!

It is clear that if Bruce wants to maximise the effectiveness of Carroll, he needs to play with more direct wingers who can beat a man and deliver. Yes, injuries have hampered Bruce’s ability to select Saint-Maximin and / or Fraser, but that doesn’t justify the decision to replace Carroll with players such as Jacob Murphy.

Fans are hoping to see both Saint-Maximin and Fraser featuring more regularly from now until the end of the season, and one man in particularly who will be keen to be named alongside them in the starting eleven, is Andy Carroll.

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