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West Ham’s purchase of Liverpool’s Andy Carroll – inspired or mad?

Andy Carroll’s much-expected move to West Ham was finalised on Wednesday and is widely believed to end up costing the East Londoners £46m in total – a transfer fee of around £15m and a relatively staggering six-year, £100,000-a-week contract. The question on everybody’s lips is whether Carroll, who scored seven goals in 25 appearances during an injury-plagued loan spell at Upton Park last season, is worth this club-record fee. Just why are West Ham willing to spend so much on a player that Liverpool are prepared to lose £20m on?

The fee the Hammers have paid for the England forward pales in comparison to the £35m price tag Liverpool paid in 2011, yet will still be seen as a hefty fee and neutrals will question just what Carroll has to offer.

Since his move to Liverpool, the former Newcastle man has been much maligned by many, with that fee hanging around his neck like a millstone. Carroll will feel that such a consensus is unwarranted after an impressive run of form towards the end of last season, in which he netted the winner in the FA Cup semi-final against Everton and a consolation goal in the final. Just as Carroll was beginning to settle on Merseyside however, out went the man who had shown so much faith in him – Kenny Dalglish – and in came Brendan Rodgers, a man whose preferred style of play was never going to make provisions for a six-foot-three striker. Those hoping Carroll would be utilised as a Plan B were left disappointed – a regular place as a mere squad player was never going to be an option for someone who cost, and was continuing to cost, so much.

Andy Carroll

The predicament at Anfield was a typical one when the player in question is of Carroll’s ilk. At his best, Carroll terrorises even the most astute of defenders in the air and has a projectile left foot that is always a threat to opposing goalkeepers. At his worst; the pony-tailed Gateshead man is conspicuously left cantering around the final third leaping into defenders just to feel involved when games aren’t catering to his strengths.

At Newcastle, Carroll was at times unplayable – as Arsenal and indeed Liverpool will testify – and when the Anfield club came in for the striker it was to nobody’s surprise – after all, Tottenham and Chelsea were also known to be keeping a close eye on him. It was of course the astronomical fee that Liverpool paid that shocked the football world and, more than likely, the player himself.  As the disbelief began to fade however, there was a genuine belief that this was the step that this rising star needed in order to completely fulfil the potential he had shown. Of course, this wasn’t the case and those who have watched the striker closely from his impressive Championship days have been left with a residual sense of frustration and disappointment.

Carroll is certainly capable of reaching double figures next season under Sam Allardyce, who is sure to give his new striker the run of games, fitness permitting, he so desperately needs. A strike partner is yet to be shipped in at Upton Park after Allardyce’s failed attempt to audaciously land Alvaro Negredo from Sevilla, but whoever is brought in must play to and off Carroll’s strengths. The aerial strength of Carroll is such that he is more than capable of assisting as many goals as he can score – something he hinted at several times last season alongside Kevin Nolan. There are few defenders who can handle Carroll at his best and if Allardyce has the tools to tap into this rich source of goals then Upton Park may well have a new hero. The player himself must also play his part, as the coming season will be vital with the pressure very much eased on his still young shoulders. He will no longer have pound signs floating over his head whenever he fails to meet a cross or squanders a chance, and hopefully Carroll will eye this as an opportunity to remind us all of the player he is capable of being.

Ask any Liverpool, or even Newcastle, supporter about Andy Carroll and the majority will, perhaps reluctantly, speak fondly of the lummox that was their number 9. While others will scoff at the amount that has been spent on Carroll – his two transfers combined far outweighs the money that has ever been spent on Robin van Persie for instance – West Ham fans should be comforted by the lack of ill-feeling towards their new man from those around Anfield. One thing that Carroll is certain to provide fans is a mixed bag of frustration at his unfulfilled but palpable talent and resounding elation when the smiling Geordie wheels away after scoring. The Upton Park faithful will hope for more of the latter and you would suspect that so will those at Anfield and St James’ Park, where a frustrated soft spot for the big man well and truly remains.

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West Ham, Southampton and Reading: Survival is the name of the game

Over the last few seasons teams coming into the Premier League from the Championship have been more successful in avoiding relegation in their first season. QPR, Norwich and Swansea all survived this season, whilst the likes of Stoke, West Brom and Wigan have now established themselves as top-flight teams. So what do the three teams that are joining this season need to do to survive?

Reading

Reading are returning to the big time after relegation in 2008. There are many similarities though between this team and the one that finished eighth in their first season in the Premiership in 2006-2007. Just like that team there are no real big stars and Reading’s success comes from their solid shape, organisation and ability to counter attack.  They have experience at the back in the shape of former Leeds man Ian Harte and Kaspars Gorkss, Exciting wingers in Jobi McAnuff and Jimmy Kebe and hardworking strikers in Jason Roberts and Noel Hunt.

The one different factor which may aid Reading’s survival chances this time is the backing of wealthy Russian Anton Zingarevich who recently bought 51% of the club. Certainly Reading will need to spend and add some Premier League experience and a proven goal scorer at the top level to the solid base that they already have.

Southampton

The Saints last couple of seasons are very similar to that of Norwich City. From struggling in League One Nigel Adkins has secured back-to-back promotions to the Premier League just Like Paul Lambert did at Carrow Road. This has been achieved by having a prolific goal scorer at Football League level in Rickie Lambert just like Norwich has Grant Holt.

Much like Reading their success in the Championship was built on a solid defensive unit marshalled by Jose Fonte and Jos Hooiveld with the experienced Kelvin Davis in goal. Dean Hammond provides a good base in front of the back four, which allows the likes of Lambert, Adam Lallana and Billy Sharp to concentrate on scoring goals. With their current squad Southampton have a good chance of survival but much like Reading some more Premier League experience and strength in depth is required to give them an even better chance.

West Ham

Everyone’s favourites to bounce straight back up did it the hard way after a 2-1 play-off final victory over Blackpool. They are a side that is already packed with Premiership and international experience with the likes of Winston Reid, Kevin Nolan, Mark Noble and Carlton Cole to name just a few. Despite scoring 81 goals last season ,which was the second highest in the division, a prolific striker is still needed as they created so many chances to win games which they drew in the Championship.

West Ham also have an advantage by having the experienced Sam Allardyce in charge. Allardyce has been there and done it with both Bolton and Blackburn, making Bolton a stable Premier League club and also taking Blackburn to a comfortable mid table position. Whilst many of the West Ham fans may not like the style of football that Allardyce plays, they cannot argue that it gets results and his meticulous planning may be what keeps West Ham afloat next season.

All three teams will have to spend to survive, with greater strength in depth being an issue for all three to cope with the rigours and pace of the top division. With three managers though who are very tactically astute and some exciting forward players Reading, Southampton and West Ham all have a great chance of making an impact in the Premier League next season.

By Chris Newman

Hammer Time: West Ham look best equipped of the Championship playoff teams to make it back to the Premier League

East London club look best equipped for Premiership survival but recent history points to high-stakes heartache looming

Looking at the four clubs involved in this year’s playoffs for the final promotion spot, West Ham United have the look of a Premiership outfit vying with three second-tier competitors. The Hammers however must be kicking themselves for needing the playoff lottery ticket at all. Having started the season with the tag of hot favourites and a squad boasting plenty of established Premier League stars, West Ham have had to settle for third place behind champions Reading and then Southampton, who clinched successive promotions against the odds. Should West Ham manage to successfully negotiate the playoff minefield the signs are good that they could quickly re-establish themselves as Premier League stalwarts. Carlton Cole, Kevin Nolan, Mark Noble and Rob Green are just some of the names within their ranks that are already proven players at the top level. The East London outfit also boast impressive Championship attendance figures with regular crowds over 30,000. They will surely be hoping that promotion will see this figure surge upwards. The new Olympic Stadium too lies in wait to house the faithful. An experienced top-flight manager in Sam Allardyce is the final string to the hammer’s bow. Big Sam though, will surely know that it is not necessarily the team that is most ready for premiership football that gains it, and certainly that finishing third counts for nothing in a playoff showdown.

The playoffs are often labelled unfair due to the fact that a team finishing well off the pace can gain promotion ahead of sides which have outperformed them over the course of the season. Some would say that justice was done last season as Swansea, who finished in third playing attractive football, emerged from the playoffs to take their hard earned Premiership place. 2010 however saw Blackpool spring a surprise and book their spot after finishing sixth in the league. Similarly fifth placed Burnley shot down third placed Sheffield United at Wembley in 2009.

West Ham’s opponents in the first of the semi finals, Cardiff City, are more familiar than most to the playoff hurt. Last season Cardiff lost to Reading in the two-leg semi-final after being undone by Blackpool in the final the previous year. The side from the Welsh capital have been running near the front of the pack in the Championship for a number of years now, also narrowly missing out on a playoff spot in 2008. Cardiff have made steady progress but fans of the Bluebirds have had to look on with envy as bitter rivals City establish themselves as a Premiership side. The positive surely here is that if Swansea can go up and stay up then why not Cardiff? Many neutrals witnessing the heartache for the Welsh side in recent years may like to see them promoted but the playoffs are truly unforgiving and hold respect for neither the league table nor sides with multiple near misses.

Ian Holloway’s Blackpool shocked everyone, most likely including themselves, winning promotion in 2010. The club clearly was not ready for the unexpected step up and despite entertaining football fans up and down the country both with their often superb attacking style and regularly mind-boggling press conferences from Holloway, the Seasiders eventually washed up back in the second tier. This time they take on Birmingham in the second semi-final and while many people would like to see them back, it has to be said that Blackpool are the least likely of the four to survive long term. Bloomfield Road holds only just over 16000 and the club lacks the financial potential of the other sides involved.

After a run of successive draws Birmingham City may have discovered their form at the right time, beating champions Reading on the last day of the league campaign. The Blues are no stranger to Premiership football and should they emerge from the playoffs would without doubt have a fighting chance of stabilising themselves in the top flight. No one would deny boss Chris Hughton his place in the Premiership after a somewhat harsh sacking at Newcastle United. The St Andrews side are in danger of becoming the country’s number one yo-yo team, but with some Premiership experience in the squad and Hong Kong businessman Carson Yeung likely to provide investment, should they go up Birmingham have the next best chance after West Ham of staying there. Promotion would surely taste even sweeter should ex-manager Alex McLeish and bitter rivals Aston Villa drop the other way.

West Ham in third racked up 86 points in the championship this season; that’s 10 more that Birmingham and 11 more than both Blackpool and Cardiff. They scored more than the other three sides and conceded less. They also won five more games than Cardiff. All this though, counts for nothing in the playoff battle; ultimately it will be down to who holds their nerve and a bit of luck in what are sure to be five dramatic games of very high sakes drama. The playoff final itself is often dubbed the “richest game in football”. Promotion to the Premier League party is said to be worth well over £100million, mostly from additional television revenue. Not bad for any promoted team, especially one entering through the back door.

By Francis Johnston

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