Sam Allardyce believes Andy Carroll need only take a seat on the bench to provide his West Ham United team-mates and the club’s supporters with a significant and timely fillip as they end a tumultuous week by resuming their struggle to stay in the Premier League with a key fixture at Cardiff City.
The possibility of Carroll taking some part in today’s game will depend on the striker’s reaction to training yesterday and whether Allardyce is willing to “gamble” on giving him a place on the bench.West Ham’s league position – squatting uncomfortably in 19th and with one win from the last 13 games – allied to the maulings the team received in Nottingham and Manchester – increases the chance of Allardyce including the £15m man in his match-day squad.
“There’s a lack of match fitness – if that’s the only problem I’m facing, that’s a calculated risk I have to take,” said Allardyce. “As long as they are saying the injury is all completely healed and it’s all about Andy’s match fitness, it may be a gamble worth taking.”
If the on-field return of James Tomkins, meaning West Ham can now field two genuine centre-halves in the hope of plugging a defence that has leaked 22 goals in six games, may have a more direct bearing on this afternoon’s outcome, Carroll appears to have attained close to iconic status around the club. It is as if the very sighting in a tracksuit of the player around whom Allardyce planned his attack signals the beginnings of an escape to (some sort of) glory.
“It’s more about him being back in the squad than actually playing to start with,” said Allardyce. “The lift of our major investment, a fantastic centre-forward, a great target man, a really good goal-scorer… that’s a boost for everybody just to have him back where we are at the moment.
“For everybody, the fans and the players – we have waited so long and so patiently for this moment to come.”
Carroll scored seven times in 22 games while on loan at Upton Park last season and although not a prolific scorer since leaving Newcastle, his status has grown in his absence with Carlton Cole and Madibo Maïga, his stand-ins this term, managing four league goals between them. The club have a hearing over a work permit for the Ivorian striker Lacina Traoré next week and are still chasing Internazionale’s Ishak Belfodil. Yesterday Allardyce had to again defend his decision to invest so much in Carroll while not signing another striker in the summer.
“Your leading front man will be 50 per cent of your team or more,” said Allardyce, who held up the example of the impetus signing Nicolas Anelka gave his Bolton side as well as suggesting that Arsenal without Olivier Giroud or Liverpool without Luis Suarez for such a prolonged period would be as damaged as West Ham are without Carroll.
He pointed to Manchester United’s struggle without Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, adding that in West Ham’s case one marquee signing was the limit.
“You can’t find any more than one if you’re us – that’s one of the problems,” he said. “We have been without Andy all season and with him we will be an awful lot better.”
Allardyce admitted the current situation at West Ham is the toughest he has experienced in his 20 years of management. “I’d probably agree, it’s a tough one,” he said. “We have got to all keep being as positive as we possibly can.”
A flood of criticism has been directed Allardyce’s way this week, not only for his side conceding 11 goals at Forest and City but also for the manner of the performances. He can, he insists, handle it in the way he has always dealt with the pressures of his role.
“I may be a modern man in terms of using technology and the latest techniques but I have traditional values when it comes to life,” he wrote in his column for the London Evening Standard. “‘Old’ values are often dismissed in this world but I believe they provide the basis for success for any individual or company in terms of discipline and structure.
“There are a lot of great things about modern society but too often now youngsters are not taught how to deal with criticism. There is a lack of discipline and respect and that concerns me. That may be regarded as an ‘old fogey’s view’ but I’d say it’s an experienced view based on 59 years of life.
“Football mirrors life. There is less patience now. I may have taken West Ham back to the Premier League at the first time of asking and helped them reach 10th last season but I know that doesn’t cut any ice now.
“You can’t shirk your responsibilities. You can’t front up when things are going well and hide away when you hit a bad patch.”