If West Ham Utd frontman Andy Carroll wanted to remind England manager what an imposing old school centre forward could do in a world of 25-yard screamers then three crushing goals against Arsenal might just have rammed the message home.
Carroll has been cursed by injury ever since he moved to Upton Park four years ago and has never had an opportunity to put together a consistent run. But he made up for lost time with a hat-trick that showed, rather than a nearly-man, he is a game-changer.
Early in the season, it seemed that Carroll’s time was up. There were vague rumours of a departure but, more tellingly, he didn’t seem to have a place in the Slaven Bilic era.
The Croatian had assembled a team of silky players full of smart moves and sublime goals – players like Manuel Lanzini and, of course, Dimitri Payet.
Andy Carroll’s wet-Saturday-in-Stoke thundering seemed to have no place. But during a spell of injuries to key players Bilic saw that Plan B had merits. Carroll is a willing workhorse still with a driving hunger and he has inveigled his way into the manager’s thoughts, first as an impact substitute and latterly with something more obvious – a target for beautiful crosses into the box.
Carroll told the West Ham club website: “It’s been tough not starting but it’s worked well and I’ve done the right thing in training to keep myself fit and getting on for the last 30 minutes, but it’s not the place I want to be. I want to be the main man in the middle.
“I’ve said this before that [Slaven Bilic] is a great manager and a great man. That’s something I’ve got to appreciate and respect and I do. It’s his decision to make the team and I’ve just got to fight for it in training and that’s what I’ve been doing.
“It’s something I’ve got to work for and when I get a start like I did at the weekend, I’ve got to show him what I’m all about.”
Although Bilic appeared to indicate at the weekend that Carroll still needs to apply himself to the rigors of life as a top class Premier League footballer, the striker does embody a dogged upbeat team spirit that has saved West Ham more than once this season.
Carroll said: “When the lads come into training, wherever we’re from we’re all sat on different tables and there are no separate groups. At the training ground, we’re all mates and all go on the pitch together as a team and work together.”
That team spirit will be put to the test against table-toppers Leicester on Sunday (April 17, 1.30pm) – the two surprise packages of the season head to head.
When the two clubs met in August and West Ham lost at home 2-1 it was seen as a soul-sapping defeat against potential strugglers. There is a new complexion on that tie now, just as there will be on Sunday.
Meanwhile there's the small matter of the FA Cup Quarter Final – the last cup tie at the Boleyn Ground – on Wednesday (April 13).
Carroll said: “Maybe I can get another hat-trick, why not! It’ll be nice to get a few more goals. It doesn’t really matter about a hat-trick, but it would be nice to be the last one to get a hat-trick at the Boleyn Ground.
“It would be nice to get my hands on the FA Cup trophy. We’ll just have to see what comes and not look too far in the future, but just at this game against Man U.”