There was a time, a few seasons back, when I was convinced West Ham had one of the best attacking left wing partnerships in the league. Back then, on the rare occasions Matty Etherington was firing on all cylinders, his link up play with George McCartney was at times outstanding.
They caused sides real problems and were capable of causing havoc with incisive overlapping runs and intricate, delicate passing. Of course they were other times when a lack of concentration cost possession and led to extra pressure being heaped upon the defensive unit, but you could say that about any area of the pitch. The real key to the partnerships success was the pace and accuracy of Etherington and the graft and ability of McCartney.
Then we sold him, or to be more accurate a bank we owed money to sold him “allegedly” and the partnership was gone. There were to be far wider reaching ramifications to this transfer of course as nobody told Alan Curbishley it was happening. So Curbs walked, claiming constructive dismissal and little Italian Gianfranco Zola appeared on the horizon. And so it was under a wave of upheaval for the club that George returned to Sunderland, taking Anton Ferdinand with him.
Curbishley could see that losing McCartney from the team would have a big impact and evidently Sunderland manager at the time Roy Keane could also see the potential in the player, so he rejoined the club where he began his career as a trainee and looked to push on with both his domestic career and his international one. He could have been forgiven for thinking his West Ham days were a thing of the past but fate had other things planned for young George and after an unsettled time back on Wearside and a largely forgettable loan spell with Leeds, the player was bought back to East London on loan last season.
It took a few games for him to settle back in to the rhythm of things, but once he did it was obvious to most of the Upton Park faithful, McCartney was back where he belonged. After enjoying a good season, capped with promotion back to the Premiership and a fantastic solo goal away to Cardiff, a two year contract was soon on the table and the full back was happy to make his return permanent, quoted as saying that there had been no contact from new Sunderland boss Martin O’Neil and that he couldn’t envisage a return to the parent club it came as no surprise to most that Allardyce snapped him up.
Having won 23 senior caps for Northern Ireland, the player retired from international football in 2011 and has focussed solely on his club career, enabling him to recapture the sort of form that made him a crowd favourite during his first spell with the club. He may not be the quickest, but he does have the pace to out strip the majority of opposing wingers and his strength is in his ability to be both resolute and precise when tackling. And despite being asked to play out of position at centre back for most of pre season, McCartney has gone on to claim the left back role as his own for the last seven league matches.
It’s stability that helps the defensive unit settle quickly and George (or Linda as he is affectionately known on the forums) has recently been an integral part of West Ham’s excellent start to the season. And it’s obvious that opposing managers have identified the Irishman as a danger, just look at how he was targeted during the lead up to Jon Walters goal for Stoke.
Nobody was expecting the well worked set piece (which Stoke won’t be able to use again for a long while now it’s been on the TV) but as Walters made his run, two Stoke players blocked McCartney off from following him out and we all know what happened next. McCartney’s form has been excellent and if it continues in the same vein, it could yet see us finish the season above the midtable mediocrity many of us assumed was the best we could hope for.
The key aspect here for me is for the player to form a decent understanding with Matt Jarvis, if that wing pairing is able to replicate or hopefully exceed the kind of robust, speedy attacking moves that Macca and Etherington were enjoying before the turmoil engulfed the club then dare I say it, could Europe be a real possibility if not this season then next? They fly so high, I wonder just how high we can go?