By Wayne Veysey at Wembley
From expensive folly to bona fide match-winner: Andy Carroll is a laughing stock no more.
Damien Comolli may not have found the stomach to turn on a television and watch the club who axed him three days previously march to a second cup final of what could yet be remembered as a glorious season.
But whenever, and however, news reached the Frenchman of Liverpool's semi-final shellacking of Merseyside rivals Everton, the irony would surely not have been lost on him of Carroll’s second dramatic headed winner in a week in which his £35 million fee was again scrutinised to death.
Even the players were talking about it afterwards. “He will be remembered forever,” said Jamie Carragher somewhat hyperbolically of his team-mate. “That goal alone is worth £35m for me.”
Liverpool’s American owners, stirred into action by Comolli’s failure to derive value from the transfer market but conspicuous by their absence on a sunny Saturday at Wembley, might not concur.
Fenway Sports Group’s interest is in the bottom line and the lofty dividends of Champions League qualification.
But Carroll, whose Liverpool career has been buried in an avalanche of damning statistics, can hold that famous ponytail high after delivering a few of his own.
To 35 million (pounds), 15 (months of misery) and nine (Liverpool goals), he can weigh in with two winners in two games, 180 minutes of classic targetman belligerence and a major role in taking Liverpool to Wembley for the third time in three months.
Before a pitchside microphone was thrust into his beaming face, Carroll had endured an afternoon of varying fortunes.
A minute into the second half, he had pulled his shirt over his head – not in celebration but embarrassment – after inexplicably heading a perfect Stewart Downing centre a yard wide from two yards out.
After Luis Suarez had taken advantage of Sylvain Distin’s wretched back-pass to give Liverpool a foothold in the tie, Carroll manoeuvred himself some space in the box in the 78th minute before firing wide from close range.
It seemed like the composure required to find the target was beyond him. But the giant No.9 never flagged or attempted to hide.
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He kept Everton’s centre-halves busy with his formidable presence and desire to find a yard of space. He held the ball up well. The touch was good. The effort was total. Furthermore, he doubled up as one of Liverpool’s most formidable defenders whenever Everton had a set piece.
Everything finally clicked into gear just when the thoughts of both sets of players and supporters were turning to extra time.
Seamus Coleman conceded a needless foul on Steven Gerrard near the corner spot. Craig Bellamy, a surprisingly late substitute, stepped up to whip a cross into the middle of the six-yard box where Carroll found a yard of pace, flicked back his head and a combination of his ponytail and neck muscles helped to plant the ball into the right-hand side of the net.
It might only count as partial redemption but, by steering in the winner in Liverpool’s biggest game of the season, Carroll has turned the corner in his Liverpool career.
He who laughs last laughs loudest. Wembley could see the man’s delight and almost hear his cackle.
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