By Wayne Veysey at Wembley Stadium
In a 36-minute display bristling with intent and almost brutal power, Andy Carroll was not quite able to turn the FA Cup final in Liverpool’s favour.
But he could, and arguably should, have turned the head of the man responsible for selecting the 23-man squad that England will send to Euro 2012 more in hope than expectation.
Roy Hodgson was not at Wembley, presumably putting the finishing touches to West Brom’s preparations for Sunday afternoon’s trip to Bolton Wanderers.
But Carroll’s contribution under the arch will surely not escape the attention of the multi-tasking new England manager, renowned as he is for his thoroughness and fondness for detail.
The much-maligned striker performed with such distinction that he almost made his £35 million fee seem money sensibly spent.
Before his arrival, Liverpool’s attack had been invisible. John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic and company coasted through the first hour with such ease they may as well have draped dressing gowns and slippers over their matchday kits.
Suddenly, a solid defensive shield was needed. Carroll began winning headers and making a nuisance of himself. His touch was sure and his feet were quick. His team-mates finally had a target to aim for.
|TEARING UP THE FORM BOOK
How Carroll struck in the cup
|Jan 6||v Oldham (Won 5-1)|
|Feb 19||v Brighton (Won 6-1)|
|Apr 14||v Everton (Won 2-1)|
|May 5||v Chelsea (Lost 2-1)|
But Carroll was more than just a big lump for Liverpool to pump long balls at. His second goal in consecutive Wembley appearances was an outstanding feat of engineering and finishing.
Controlling the ball in the area before sending John Terry first one way then the other, the centre forward made space for a shot with his left foot and lashed the ball past Cech in front of the Liverpool fans.
At last, his team had a foothold in the match and it set up a grandstand finish. Every time the ball was whipped or manoeuvred into the box, Carroll looked like he could supply the equaliser.
He thought he had done exactly that with a powerful header from Luis Suarez’s cross 10 minutes from time. By reaching out his right hand from behind the goal-line and clawing back the ball, Petr Cech did enough to convince the officials that the ball had not crossed the chalk.
Immediate replays did not establish incontrovertibly that the ball had crossed the line, as had been the case with Frank Lampard’s incorrectly disallowed World Cup goal against Germany, but later angles suggested that Carroll may have been, by a paper-thin margin, on the wrong end of football’s latest goal-line controversy.
Perhaps he should have been more emphatic with his finish and not given Cech the opportunity to make his dramatic intervention.
The former Newcastle man still had the bit between his teeth. In the closing seconds, it took a terrific Terry block to stop his goal-bound shot.
By turning such a marquee match on its head, Carroll had not only shown the error of Kenny Dalglish’s initial team selection, but proved that he belongs in elite company.
The question now is whether his name should be the one jotted down to fill the targetman slot that is there for the taking in Hodgson’s squad.
England will need a tower centre forward in Poland and Ukraine to rough up their opponents, even if it is only to answer a crisis in the odd cameo role.
|None of Holt, Crouch and Zamora could have duffed up Terry in the way that Carroll did on a few occasions on Saturday evening
With Wayne Rooney’s name already inked in and Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, Jermain Defoe, Darren Bent and Fraizer Campbell vying for two or three positions, that leaves one place for someone who measures up for an extra large shirt.
The spearheads can be narrowed down to Carroll, Peter Crouch, Bobby Zamora and the wild card Grant Holt.
The Norwich City man wins by virtue of the yardstick by which all strikers are measured – goals. His 16th goal of the season helped Norwich draw at Arsenal on Saturday and the records of Crouch (14), Carroll (nine) and Zamora (nine) are inferior.
Nevertheless, none of Holt, Crouch and Zamora could have duffed up Terry in the way that Carroll did on a few occasions on Saturday evening.
|1/2||England are 1/2 with Sportingbet to qualify from Group D at Euro 2012.|
By sheer force of will and personality, Carroll felt he could turn the game on its head when he was summoned for an against-the-odds rescue mission. And he did.
Looking mobile, fit and strong, the 6ft 3in striker shimmered with menace. He even looked like he was enjoying himself, something that can’t always be seemed of a mostly disastrous spell on Merseyside weighed down by the fee he could do nothing about.
If England need a late goal this summer – as they surely will at more than one point – they could do worse than to summon Carroll from the bench and ask him to remove his bib.
Unlike Holt and Zamora, he is used to playing under the weight of massive expectation. Unlike Crouch, his best days lie ahead of him.
This display of character and pluck was not a one-off, either. Carroll was outstanding in the semi-final win over Everton. He also scored a last-ditch winner against Blackburn Rovers a few days before that.
The beast within lay dormant for so long but, finally, over the last month, it has reared its head. England should take note.
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