Confident Carroll stays in tune with team-mates

 

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The Independent Online

A light had been turned on in Andy Carroll's head before he was fourth man out into the Oslo sunshine for last night's warm-up. How must it have felt to hear Roy Hodgson's words – "well done, son" – echoing across the Etihad Stadium turf on Wednesday morning when after a fine piece of skill he had put a particularly emphatic shot past Joe Hart.

Carroll is a confidence player and he was never offered much by Fabio Capello and his ad-hoc pronouncements on the player's private life. Carroll had reined his extracurricular activity, 18 months ago, when Capello publicly mused that "if he wants to be a good sportsman, he needs to drink less than the others." Privately, Carroll wonders sometimes where the whispers come from.

It has been simpler with Hodgson, who has been prepared to assess on the basis of what he has seen on the field of play and in training. He did not take long to maintain this impression, when his third start for England came. The game was three minutes old when he made the sprint and diving thrust to place his head on a Stewart Downing cross. Egil Olsen's centre half, Vadim Demidov, was could not match him, though his presence was enough to prevent the header finding a target.

It set the tone for the encouraging sense of understanding between Carroll and Ashley Young and gave the early moments of Hodgson's first game more interest than we anticipated when the flat serried ranks of what was clearly a 4-4-2 lined up.

Nods, hand gestures, a nascent sense of something approaching synchonicity seemed to be taking shape between Carroll and Young when England took the lead. Steven Gerrard's clever movement, taking away a defender as Young ran through to score, and Brede Hangeland lack of movement, as the forward feinted past him, mattered. But Carroll, who had taken control of the ball around the half way line and squeezed it very neatly on the turn into Young's path, was deeply significant.

The frustration was that the encouraging inflections of the game's early stages could not be maintained. England's lines looked flat and unyielding at times. No one ran between them. Scott Parker seemed to be revealing frustrations at looking for someone to break the template to receive a ball from him, only to be forced to swivel back and propel it back.

There had been only one full-back's overlap to count at that stage, from Leighton Baines, and that 6ft 3in frame of Carroll's remained a virtually untested weapon. Downing was the same, supreme frustration he has been at Anfield all season. The target man needs wingers running deep into opposition territory and delivering crossing from position so advanced that the defenders cannot anticipate them. Carroll was granted one.

A win over Norway, the first in 32 years for England, is something to give thanks for but neither was there evidence of midfield runners, pushing past Carroll and forcing defenders to drop off and give him space. This was curious, since Hodgson's great quality is an awareness of the strikers' requirements. It is hard to imagine that all the team shape work his players were talking about did not cover this base.

Hodgson' s very precise match preparations have also always led him to pick teams based on the strengths and weakness of the opposition, so it is easy to imagine that he will have projected the aspects of Carroll's recent performances into the mental picture of England v France in Donetsk on 11 June.

We actually have hard evidence that he can damage that opposition, for whom Laurent Koscielny and Philippe Mexes are likely to be the central defensive obstacles. Carroll's England debut, against France at Wembley in November 2010 offered few high spots beyond the sight of Mexes and Adil Rami struggling to win many aerial duels with him. It would be a calamity if the nation does not put him to that use again.

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