Soccer-Liverpool's under-fire Carroll gets his reward
LONDON, April 14 |
LONDON, April 14 (Reuters) - The abiding image of Andy Carroll from Saturday's FA Cup semi-final looked like being him hiding his head in shame after a miss but instead his smiling face will adorn Sunday's back pages celebrating his winner.
The 35 million pounds ($55.60 million) striker had seemed on course for another savaging on radio phone-in shows after failing to find the target with several opportunities as Liverpool trailed Everton 1-0 in the all-Merseyside Wembley clash.
The unflattering comparisons with Everton's bargain-buy forward Nikica Jelavic were there for all to see after the Croat continued his terrific run with another smoothly-taken goal to put his team ahead after 24 minutes.
Jelavic cost 5.5 million pounds from Rangers in the January transfer window and has already notched six goals to almost match Carroll's tally accumulated in 15 stuttering months since he moved to Anfield from Newcastle United for that hair-raising fee.
Carroll started strongly on Saturday, setting up decent chances for Jay Spearing and Martin Skrtel, but was ridiculed long and loud by the Everton fans a minute into the second half when he met a lovely Stewart Downing cross at the far post but powered a point-blank header wide.
Mortified by the miss, he buried his face in his shirt as he trudged back up field but to his immense credit he did not allow the setback to ruin his day and he kept plugging away.
Once Luis Suarez had tucked in Liverpool's 62nd-minute equaliser Carroll, like all his team mates, found an extra spring in his step and he battled strongly with Everton's centre backs in a bid to force a way through their well-drilled defence.
In the 78th minute he dragged a low shot across goal and wide and soon after, looking a little desperate, tried his luck on the turn from almost 30 metres, again earning the derision of the blue end of the ground.
Carroll, though, had the last laugh three minutes from time when he leapt high to meet substitute Craig Bellamy's free kick and cleverly steered a back header beyond keeper Tim Howard.
"I've had some criticism but I've just kept on going," Carroll told ESPN. "To get the winner here is a great feeling.
"I believed in myself every day and got my chance here. I had a few chances and should have probably scored earlier but I kept at it and it was a great ball by Craig and I just had to score with that one and I did.
"It's the best feeling ever. We worked hard and getting the goal right there at the end was great," added the 23-year-old who also headed a stoppage-time winner in the 3-2 league victory over Blackburn Rovers on Tuesday.
Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish has spent much of the last year berating journalists for their "obsession" with Carroll, who he has relentlessly defended.
The Scot, though, declined to give him particular praise when his name came up again in a more positive light in Saturday's post-match news conference.
"It's testament to everybody's character ... it's not time to individualise performances," Dalglish said in another snarling appearance.
Captain Steven Gerrard was happy to give his team mate praise.
"He doesn't hide and he takes criticism on the chin," Gerrard said. "That's what we bought him for, to score big goals, and he's delivered today."
($1 = 0.6295 British pounds) (Editing by Tony Jimenez)
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