Steve Bruce made a big call against Sheffield United, dropping Joelinton in favour of Andy Carroll.
It was a bold move, but pressure was mounting on the Brazilian after a string of goalless performances.
So did Carroll justify his selection over the number nine? Yes and no. On the one hand, Carroll did play a key role in both goals. He teed up Javi Manquillo’s cross for the opener, and his flick on sent Jonjo Shelvey through on goal for the controversial second.
But other than those moments, Carroll was an isolated figure up top, suffering the same woes as Joelinton.
He would win headers or try to hold the ball up, but the bigger issue was the lack of support for the big man. There was a moment in the first half where Carroll won the first ball from a free kick, only for the Blades to retrieve possession. Carroll was visibly annoyed with Miguel Almiron, who hadn’t anticipated the knockdown.
In contrast, Shelvey clearly knew what Carroll was going to do for his goal. He was on his bike, ready to win the second ball as soon as Paul Dummett sent one up in the air to the striker. It was a bit of footballing intelligence, anticipation, from Shelvey that we’ve been missing.
Joelinton hasn’t looked the part so far, with his confidence decreasing game by game. But it’s not like he’s had a lot of support. We’ve seen flashes of talent from the record signing, and maybe he would do better with more support around him.
Carroll’s performance against Sheffield United proved that the system is what is hindering the striker, not the man himself.
Bruce now has a big decision to make against Southampton. Does he continue with Carroll, recall Joelinton, or throw another curve ball and bring in Dwight Gayle?