ANDY Carroll may have caused serious damage to Steven Taylor’s jaw this week, but the only thing broken at Doncaster was Newcastle United’s record for clean sheets in a season.
Carroll could still be in hot water with the club following the controversial incident at the training ground last weekend, although he has at least gone some way to repairing the damage done to the team’s promotion push.
Rarely out of the headlines in recent weeks, Carroll showed exactly why manager Chris Hughton was willing to start with him last night as he applied a cool finish to a flowing Newcastle move in the second half.
It was a potent reminder of the bright future the 21-year-old could have on the pitch, although some will feel it only serves to highlight how stupid he has been with his actions off it.
The United hierarchy can not ignore what has happened, it is not going to go away with a no comment. One of their players has fractured the jaw of another following a row about women and wages. Football people may like to tell us these sorts of things happen all the time on training grounds up and down the country, except they don’t. Team-mates do not send one another to hospital after smacking them in the face because of personal tensions. Not even Wayne Bridge and John Terry. It has been Newcastle’s team spirit, the strength of the bond between the players and the coaching staff, which has carried them to the verge of a Premier League return.
What damage has been done by this row and the after shock which has reverberated since? Carroll and Taylor are not only the two local lads in the squad, they are two of the biggest personalities and any simmering sense of discontent could easily poison a positive atmosphere if it is allowed to.
Newcastle’s public response has been to say nothing, to ignore it with a stern no comment, but it must be hoped they are being rather more proactive behind the scenes.
An internal investigation is under way, but nobody has even confirmed that. Whatever happens, it has to be quick and decisive.
Carroll is a very talented young footballer, but he is in danger of becoming a liability. Players who attract controversy will never realise their potential, and Carroll only has to look across the dressing room at Joey Barton to realise that.
Newcastle’s players, though, have already shown the strength of mind to ignore off the pitch distractions.
They have admirably shrugged off the uncertainty and confusion which surrounded the sale of the club and the appointment of Chris Hughton as permanent manager, but this involves one of their own.
The dressing room can shut out interference when it comes from outside, but how do they cope with it when it comes from within? These are the questions we do not yet know the answer to. The impact, negative or otherwise, can only be accurately appraised in time.
However, ultimately, for the good of Newcastle United Football Club, the staff, the fans and their team-mates, it can not be allowed to derail a promotion charge. Thankfully, there were no signs it had last night and Carroll was given a long hug by Kevin Nolan on the final whistle.
His future at St James’ Park looks secure, at least in the short term.
Wearing black gloves to cover both fists, Carroll should have hit the target for visitors after just six minutes. An incisive run from Wayne Routledge was just about halted on the edge area, but the ball fell nicely for Carroll – who lifted his effort well over the bar. The England Under-21 international also came close from a corner, only for his snap-shot to drift just wide of the post, as Doncaster slowly began to offer more of a threat going forward.
Steve Harper did well to get down to Billy Sharp’s low shot, with Danny Simpson following up to hook the loose ball clear as Dean Shiels ran into try and knock in the rebound. Newcastle’s reshuffled defence looked vulnerable and Sharp should have done far better than shoot straight at Harper after Tamas Kadar had failed to cut out a cross into the area. Almost straight away, Newcastle broke, Routledge threading a ball into the run of Carroll.
This time the striker made a solid connection, only for veteran goalkeeper Neil Sullivan to tip it away.
The game was finely balanced at the break, but it was Newcastle who made the breakthrough as Carroll remembered he is better with his feet than his fists.
Routledge deserves plenty of praise for the through ball which found him, but Carroll still had lots to do as he held off Gareth Roberts before rounding Sullivan and rolling the ball into the empty net.
Sharp thought he had cancelled that out just two minutes later when Harper failed to hold on to a shot from Martin Woods, only for a linesman’s flag to chalk it off.
Kevin Nolan could have made the game safe with quarter of an hour remaining, but his weak first time shot meant an easy save for Sullivan after the former Bolton man had found time in the penalty box.
It mattered not, Doncaster’s attacks floundering on sound defence as Newcastle secured their 19th clean sheet of the season to claim a new record for the most shut-outs in a league season set back in 1992/3. We all know how that campaign ended.