Carroll's emphatic finish masks a hesitant display
Andy Carroll is learning to live with the pressure of expectation, following his £35m transfer from Newcastle United to Liverpool in January. His well-taken goal in the 43rd minute was his first since December, and completed what will be seen as a promising second cap for the young Geordie.
He took his chance without hesitation once Stewart Downing's touch had teed him up perfectly, drilling the ball low through the legs of the despairing Ghana captain John Mensah and into the far corner of the net. The goal was never in doubt once the ball reached Carroll, who thumped the ball with the certainty of a natural goalscorer. He didn't think about it or hesitate once, he just drew back his favoured left foot and struck through the ball with absolute conviction.
Carroll's instinctive strike was the first goal of what should prove to be a long and profitable England career. And it was just what the pony-tailed striker needed, having been picked ahead of Darren Bent, who had scored in his last three appearances in an England shirt, and Peter Crouch, who came into the match with the relatively prolific record of 22 goals from his 42 appearances.
The strike masked shortcomings, however, in some other areas of his game, shortcomings that raise doubts over whether Carroll, at the age of 22 and after merely half a season of Premier League football, is ready to become the man to spearhead England's challenge for next year's European Championship.
Carroll's first touch of the game was a determined shoulder barge on Isaac Vorsah, a challenge which was overlooked by last night's Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir. The young Liverpool striker was keen to impose himself physically on his opponents, and overall he looked less daunted than he had on his previous outing for England, the 2-1 defeat to France in November. Carroll's movement and energy were also encouraging, even more so when you consider that he is still short of fitness following his recent struggles with a persistent thigh problem.
It was his touch on the ball that was the most disappointing feature of his game. Asked at times to play with his back to goal and hold up the ball before laying it off to a team-mate, he all too often thumped a pass, making it well nigh impossible for England to retain possession.
Everyone knows Carroll is raw and rough around the edges. And it showed at moments last night, moments that ultimately did not matter too much for England against Ghana but could prove costly against better opposition next year in Poland and Ukraine.
He was withdrawn after 59 minutes, replaced by Tottenham Hotspur's Jermain Defoe, who was a direct replacement, lining up in the middle of England's trio of attackers. England were far less potent for the final half-hour of the game, another sign that for all his faults, both on and off the pitch, Carroll will probably start the next England game, against Switzerland in June.
Last night's friendly will largely be remembered for Carroll's first England goal, although it was an entertaining game, a surprise perhaps seeing as it came just three days after the crucial victory over Wales in a Euro 2012 qualifier. Fabio Capello's decision to rest several key players may have diluted the build-up to the game, but it did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the 20,000 or so Ghanaians among the crowd at Wembley, who created a celebratory atmosphere on their first appearance at the most famous of football grounds.
They were beating drums along Wembley Way three hours before kick-off, and once inside the ground consistently made more noise than their hosts – even though they were heavily outnumbered – not least when Asamoah Gyan jinked his way through the England defence and scored a brilliant solo goal in stoppage time to earn Ghana a draw.
Ghana's coach, Goran Stevanovic, had picked a strong side, with eight of the team that played in the World Cup quarter-final with Uruguay last summer. England's reserves, however, proved to be their match. And in Carroll they have found a young player, like Jack Wilshere, who is good enough to hold his own in the international game. Unlike Wilshere, however, Carroll still has much to improve if he is to thrive at this level.
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