The new number 9
Andy Carroll announced his arrival in the Premier League with a hat trick against Villa. How does he compare with other recent Newcastle strikers?
Debate among Newcastle supporters has inevitably wandered to how good Andy Carroll can be, ever since his introduction as a local striker to the travelling fans in Palermo under Glenn Roeder back in 2006, to become the youngest player to represent Newcastle United in Europe as a 90th minute sub in the shadow of a spectacular keeping performance by Tim Krul.
An early comparison was there for all to see. Shearer had himself become the youngest player, during his time at Southampton, to score a top flight hat trick aged 17 years and 240 days. Carroll was just 60 days older when making his debut.
Sunday saw Carroll finally make his home debut in the number 9 shirt to fire a superb left footed hat trick, the first time this has been done since Micky Quinn in the old 2nd division against Leeds. Prior to that, it was Supermac who made a hat trick home debut against Liverpool, also in the number 9.
This makes comparisons even more inevitable, with undoubted pressure likely to be heaped on his shoulders – a local lad like Shearer and Milburn, a thunderous shot from his left foot, just like Supermac.
Carroll is making his own way in the game. His contribution comes both in defence and attack. Although the highlights will rarely pick it up, Carroll is an imposing presence in his own box at set pieces, often being the man to clear the danger. This is a feature of the modern game, highlighted on many an occasion by Bobby Robson when singing the praises of Shearer and the young Ameobi.
Carroll has adopted an old fashioned combative approach up front too, similar in some ways to Supermac, and in the same vein as Wyn Davies before him. Until last season, some critics may have argued that his goal scoring was not prolific, and when he did start hitting the net, that the opposition was merely in the 2nd tier of English football.
It might be forgotten that Jackie Milburn`s first 25 goals for Newcastle were scored whilst a 2nd division club. Carroll hit the 25 goal landmark for Newcastle, to add to his 1 for Preston on loan, with his hat trick goal. He now has 5 in the Premier League.
Although Shearer hit a hat trick for Southampton on his debut, a trawl back through the records shows that he hit the 25 goal mark at a similar age to young Andy, both being 21. When Shearer came to his home town club, he was already an established international player.
Another comparison comes with Shola Ameobi, a player whose shadow has probably protected Carroll`s development and who was the last hopeful Shearer replacement. It should not be forgotten that Ameobi is himself on the edge of a notable landmark. Shola is only 2 goals behind Micky Quinn`s total, and 6 behind the last surviving FA Cup winner for Newcastle, Vic Keeble, the man who took the number 9 shirt off Milburn. To surpass those two would put him in the post-war top 10.
Shola encouraged similar debate in his earlier years. It took him until the age of 27 to hit his first hat trick, against Reading last year. It was aged 22, at Anfield in a 1-1 draw, that Ameobi hit the 25 goal mark.
Carroll`s scoring rate might come as a surprise to many. A significant proportion of his appearances, like Shola, have been as a sub, which makes them seem as though they have played more than they really have. Shola hit the 25 mark after 65 starts and 62 from the bench. Carroll`s rate is startlingly faster, with 44 starts and coming on a further 29 times.
Looking at goals per start, young Andy has indeed been prolific. His strike rate will officially be recorded as 0.57, compared with Shola`s 0.38. In the modern era, only two players have scored goals for the club at a faster rate than Andy, his namesake Cole at 0.82 and Sir Les at 0.62. Shearer`s rate was 0.52, albeit with a leaner period at the end of his career. It could be argued that all of those had better service during most of their time at the Toon.
Sunday`s performance might at least sway some of the doubters. Yes, it will be a long hard season, with a hard job to keep going as he has started, particularly as he attracts the attention of the world`s best defenders. There also remains the cloud of Andy`s court case in the autumn and the hope that he can develop even further.
For now, there is a spring in Geordie steps. We have a new number 9, with lots of promise. Perhaps we really do have a new local hero, as well as an inspiration to our budding academy.