Forward thinking

Supposedly, West Ham United have surprised a lot of people thus far this season. When pundits praise the Irons, they point out our strength at the back - one of the tightest defences in the country and the only Premier League team yet (at the time of writing) to concede a goal from a set piece.

Supposedly, West Ham United have surprised a lot of people thus far this season. When pundits praise the Irons, they point out our strength at the back – one of the tightest defences in the country and the only Premier League team yet (at the time of writing) to concede a goal from a set piece. As the pundits go on, they talk about Andy Carroll and the positive effect he’s had and how much more threatening we look from set pieces since his signing but then they stop, and just leave their analysis at that.

I think they’re missing a trick. Forward thinking Words: Alex Shilling Many of these so-called “football experts” seem to be under the impression that Andy Carroll is the only centre forward currently strutting his stuff down the Boleyn Ground. In fairness, one can forgive them for that impression as Big AC has been the only striker getting any actual game time for us since the end of August. However, contrary to popular belief, Carroll is NOT the only striker at this club and I think that we are missing out on a lot of attacking potential by Mr Allardyce picking his teams as though he is.

As stated, Andy Carroll is a very good striker. No one is disputing that. But he is not the perfect striker. He is not blessed with lightning quick pace, nor mesmerising close control of the football. In short, he’s no Ian Pearce. But then no one is really. Although the club comes up short of the perfect blend of Pele, Maradona, Owen and Romario that was Mr Pearce in his time at Upton Park, we do have some other strikers who possess some of the qualities that our number 8 comes up short in.

Mobido Maiga, for instance, possesses lightning quick pace – his goals against Southampton and Wigan in the Capital One Cup proved that. He also nearly capped a ten minute debut cameo against Villa with a goal, rounding the keeper only to have his shot cleared off the line. Picture a West Ham team with Maiga and Carroll playing up front together – Carroll winning everything in the air and knocking every ball down for Maiga to run on to and smash in the back of the net or lay it across goal for someone else; we’d have the perfect combination of strength and speed. People talk about Nolan running onto all of Carroll’s knockdowns but why limit that manoeuvre to just one player, when we’ve got so much attacking potential in this team?

A Maiga-Carroll partnership has to be something at the back of Big Sam’s mind; we found to our own cost last time out in the Premier League that having only one style of play kills you in this division. So there we have the ‘opposites attract’ strike partnership – now here’s something a bit different. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the ‘two of a kind’ strike partnership.

One of our fans’ major criticisms of Carlton in the past has been that he doesn’t score enough goals. Whilst it is true that the big man is not the best finisher in the world, it isn’t simply a case of him not putting away the chances he gets. Chances are few and far between for him, given the way he has had to carry the can up front for the past few seasons and do all the work holding the ball up while the attack gains some momentum and the cavalry arrives. Whilst Carlton’s goalscoring record could have been better the past few seasons, his assists record is actually pretty impressive. With a new foil in the form of Andy Carroll, he could work on developing other aspects of his game, such as finishing and close control. It strikes me as a win-win situation: both our England strikers get game time, and they both learn from each other and improve as footballers at the same time. I’d want to see it, and I’d be surprised if I was the only fan who thought that.

My final suggestion is not one, perhaps, for now, but for the future. Jack Bowers made the point very well a couple of issues ago that the famous West Ham academy could be said to be dwindling somewhat, and I agree with him, it has been in recent years. However, I think the main reason for that is a lack of senior role models in the first team. When I talk about young players and role models, I talk with two players in mind. One has been the concurrent theme of this whole article; the other is a young lad who I believe is the best young striker to come out of the Academy since Jermain Defoe made his first team bow for us. They’re two very different forwards, but anything Robert Hall can learn from Andy Carroll has to be a good thing. On the pitch, anyway. Under the tutelage of one of the most powerful strikers in the country, I believe Rob could become the new Jermain Defoe.

So that’s it really. In my humble opinion, our manager is making a mistake by playing Andy Carroll up front on his own. As far as I can see, we’d be much better off in every respect by trying out one of two strike partnerships, and considering a third partnership for the future. Of course, doing such a thing, and changing a system which has garnered us an impressive 15 points from the first 10 games would be a risk, but this is the Premier League – everything’s a risk. He who dares, Rodney! Have a think about it you Irons, here’s to three points today. Tweet me at @alexshilling if you fancy it. Come on you Irons!

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