By Tim Poole at Upton Park
A lot can happen in a year – just ask supporters of Chelsea and Liverpool.
This time last season, youthful exuberance, indomitable strength and scintillating skill were hardly characteristics you would ascribe to Andy Carroll or Romelu Lukaku.
Twelve months on, however, and look how things have changed. During West Ham’s convincing 3-1 win over West Brom on Saturday, Carroll and Lukaku topped the bill of headline attractions with two menacing performances. And at the ages of 24 and 19, respectively, two exceptionally talented young strikers clearly have the potential to get even better.
|CARROLL & LUKAKU
|CLUB: West Ham
|CLUB: West Brom
Finally, two big, powerful strikers have shown one of the most entertaining leagues in the world that not only slim-line 100 metre sprinters can make a difference in modern football. The classic target man is back.
On Saturday, Carroll was the best player on the park. A two-goal contribution coupled unwavering all round talent with superb goalscoring ability.
His first was reminiscent of his winner against Swansea earlier this season as well as his memorable strike for England against Sweden during Euro 2012. Rising powerfully above those around him, Carroll met Gary O’Neil’s corner to send a superb header straight into the back of the net. It was a classic Englishman’s goal.
His second, however, was a touch of absolute craft. Looking back over his shoulder, the 24-year-old latched onto a long ball and, without even taking a touch, thumped a low right-footed volley straight into the far corner.
“You won’t see better technique this season than during Andy Carroll’s second goal,” beamed manager Sam Allardyce after the game. Something else you will not see is another striker capable of possessing such technical skill while at the same time terrorising a defence with consistent aerial ability.
In Lukaku, though, West Brom have a front man who comes very close – and at such a young age, too. Fighting for a lost cause on this occasion, the Belgian still showed the same resilience and determination viewers have become accustomed to seeing on a weekly basis.
Lukaku was a bright light on a dark day for the visitors, hitting the post and flashing just wide from range, while his 13 league goals for the Baggies this term have demonstrated exactly what the 19-year-old is all about.
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Here are strikers that can finish as well in the air as on the ground, who can outmuscle any defenders and challenge for every ball. Where would Steve Clarke’s Baggies and Allardyce’s Hammers be without them?
And what luck that these two clubs were able to obtain the mercurial forwards with such uncomplicated ease in the first place; what strokes of genius both signings proved to be. For critics of the Premier League’s much-maligned loan system, what crushingly definitive proof that it works.
Last term, Lukaku was stuck on the sidelines at Chelsea, out of favour and out of match practice. Carroll, too, was on the fringes at Liverpool, despite flashes of brilliance showing that the 24-year-old was hardly a striker bereft of quality.
How things have changed, indeed. With the much-needed first-team action their current clubs have afforded them this season, Carroll and Lukaku are flourishing beyond reasonable expectation. At their parent clubs, they simply would not get the game time.
Indeed, the need for their current sides to hold on to the talismanic strikers is imperative. Neither Allardyce nor Clarke have hidden their interest in retaining their star men beyond this campaign and - on this form - who could blame them?
But it is not like the neutral would suffer, either. Two good old-fashioned target men scoring goals every week? The Premier League is all the better for it.