One man’s calculated risk is another’s desperate punt. It remains to be seen into which category Andy Carroll falls but, for the moment, the pragmatic acceleration of his West Ham United comeback appears to be working.
There was a talismanic touch to his return, for the final 18 minutes of a pivotal 2-0 win at Cardiff. Carroll offered few surprises; he was more buffalo than ballet dancer. He won the Big Unit’s fair share of headers, and his rusty technique ensured he pursued the ball with the vigour of a desperate commuter running after the last bus home.
Yet it was his simple pass which allowed the outstanding Mark Noble to seal Big Sam’s salvation with West Ham’s second goal in added time. Carroll duly repaid the devotion of the travelling fans by kicking the match ball to them at the final whistle.
Since no occasion involving the Academy would be complete without its surreal twist it was left to the sage of Upton Park, Jack Sullivan, the 13-year-old son of co-owner David, to pipe up on Twitter. “Thank God for the Geordie Jesus” he posted, alongside a faintly sacrilegious image which proclaimed “I am back, bitches”.
Thankfully, the grown-ups at the training ground are aware of the fragility of Carroll’s situation. A behind closed doors game is being arranged this week to increase his match fitness, and to ease the likes of James Collins and Ricardo Vaz Te back into a stretched first team squad.
Assistant manager Neil McDonald, deputed to deal with post-match media chores by Allardyce, accepted: “We have to build Andy’s time up gradually. We have to make sure we don’t push him too hard, too far and too fast.”
Given that, West Ham could probably do without the emotional pull of their next match, against Newcastle United. They will be without James Tomkins, sent off a minute after Carroll’s introduction for his second bookable offence, but reinforcements are arriving.
They will discover on Monday whether a work permit application for potential loanee Lacina Traoré, the newly-signed Monaco striker, has been successful.
Kevin Nolan, their suspended captain, was a notably vocal member of the substitutes’ bench in Wales. “He said he wanted to come,” reported McDonald. “Everyone is in this together, players staff and the owners.”
As if to prove the point, the co-owners leapt to the defence of their embattled manager. “Sam was doing nothing wrong,” insisted David Gold. Sullivan Senior added: “If you were looking for a manager to keep you up you’d appoint Sam.”
As far as Cardiff are concerned, it was an ominous home debut for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. He obeyed the conventions of his trade by concentrating on the positives of a more assertive second half performance, but his side looked vulnerable in defence and threadbare up front.
Solskjaer introduced Magnus Wolff Eikrem, his first signing, off the bench. He will be joined in midfield by Mats Moller Daehli, an 18-year-old Norwegian international whose £2m transfer from Molde was announced on Saturday night.
Daehli, subject of late interest from former club Manchester United, was described by Solskjaer as “an inside midfielder who likes to get between the lines and take people on”. He added: “I don’t want to liken him to other players,” and promptly compared him to Samir Nasri and David Silva.
No pressure, then.