England's Carroll service off-key after all the noise about selection
Thursday 18 November 2010
Instead of tuning in to watch Shaun Ryder eat a crocodile's unmentionable parts, the nation was last night invited to witness Andy Carroll chew up a couple of raw French defenders. Only it didn't quite work out that way.
The revamped TV schedule meant that I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here was given the night off, so ITV could broadcast England's friendly with France, and it was Carroll who was meant to take centre stage.
However, the service was so poor to the Newcastle No 9 that he was unable to make his aerial dominance of his marker Adil Rami count.
The French were clearly wary of the size and physical intimidation of the big Geordie. For once, Carroll's reputation did him a favour. He earned a free-kick without touching the ball in the first minute of the game, as Rami, who is called Shrek by the supporters of his club Lille, attempted to impose himself.
The selection of Carroll had been a fraught one from start to finish for Fabio Capello and his employers at the Football Association. The Italian seemed to take an amoral stance towards the rights and wrongs of selecting someone who is currently on bail with a court case pending in January, in which he is accused of assaulting his former girlfriend.
Given that some of England's better strikers, such as Wayne Rooney, Jermain Defoe and Darren Bent, were ruled out with injury and that Carroll had scored seven Premier League goals this season, expediency was clearly the order of the day.
Capello stuck his neck out on Tuesday in saying Carroll would play if he had recovered from a groin injury, but then was put in an awkward position when Newcastle appealed to the FA for the 21-year-old to be left out on medical grounds. After all the fuss and bother, Capello was hardly going to omit Carroll for the footballing equivalent of a note from your mum.
Sadly for Carroll, his chances to shine were few and far between on a night when England's makeshift side were thoroughly outclassed.
The idea that Carroll might thrive on a succession of crosses from the flanks, delivered by the wingers James Milner and Theo Walcott, never materialised.
Instead, all too predictably, the England defence clipped a succession of hopeful long balls forward, for the powerfully built striker to try and win. He did his best, and battled away, but it was depressing to watch as, in contrast, the French passed the ball around with style and precision.
Carroll has scored several goals for Newcastle this season with far-post headers from diagonal free-kicks, but England did not seem to have noticed. It only worked once for Carroll, when he met a Kieran Gibbs free-kick and nodded down to Steven Gerrard, who shot over the bar.
Other than that, Carroll's attempts on goal were restricted to a snap shot in the first half, which was easily saved by France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, and a header from 18 yards in the 70th minute, from Gerrard's cross, which was too close to Lloris again.
It proved to be Carroll's last action of note, as Capello withdrew him two minutes later. He was replaced by another debutant, Cardiff City's Jay Bothroyd.
Carroll was given a generous ovation by the full house at Wembley, partly in recognition of the hard work he had put in, and partly perhaps in sympathy for the almost total lack of service he had received.
Having passed his first test under the Wembley lights, Carroll is clearly worth another chance in an England shirt, as long as he passes his second test, that is, in sorting out the chaos of his private life.
That will probably prove harder for Carroll who showed enough last night, in a weak England team, to suggest he could become the striker that Capello would so love to have at his disposal. And perhaps give England a bit of bite in the process.
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