EVEN with the seemingly incessant injury problems suffered by Andy Carroll since his £35m move from Newcastle United three years ago, today will not be the first time the striker has faced his former club.
These days he is a West Ham player and, having made his long-awaited comeback in last weekend's 2-0 win at Cardiff City, he is hoping to make his first start of the season against his beloved Magpies.
The sight of the England front-man in full flow is enough to worry most defences and that is the case for a Newcastle backline well aware of the threat he will pose.
Loading article content
Mike Williamson, enjoying a renaissance at St James' Park this season when it looked as if he would be on his way during the summer, will be tasked with keeping Carroll at bay, should Sam Allardyce throw him in from the start for the Hammers.
Williams spent a year at Newcastle with Carroll before he was controversially sold on January transfer window deadline day back in 2011. Since then, despite being in and out of Alan Pardew's side, he has faced Carroll on four separate occasions – and tended to finish on the losing side.
Since emerging as a second half substitute in the May after his Liverpool switch, the Reds went on to complete a 3-0 win. There was also a 3-1 Liverpool victory in the December.
But the following April, Williamson helped keep Carroll and Luis Suarez quiet as Newcastle won 2-0 at St James' Park, suggesting Newcastle can deal with him.
There was frustration for Williamson and Steven Taylor – the likely central defensive pairing again at Upton Park today – on the only occasion Carroll has faced his hometown club as a Hammers player. That afternoon in November last season saw Kevin Nolan grab the winner.
The Carroll-Nolan combo worked a treat that day, but with the latter suspended today all eyes will be on the younger man whenever Allardyce decides to use him. Williamson will be ready.
The Newcastle centre-back said: “Andy has timed his return perfectly. He is a huge handful. I have had the pleasure of playing with him many times and against him a few times too.
“He never makes it a comfortable afternoon. I played against him when he was at Liverpool. He is a real handful and has good feet.
“Technically he has that side of the game sorted. But his timing in the air is one of the best I have come across. We have to go there and get the win regardless of Andy Carroll’s threat.
“It will take him time to get back to 90 minute match fitness. When the ball is there to be won, he will be there and he will not be slow off the mark.”
A likely alternative to Carroll, who could start on the bench, will be Carlton Cole, who himself is fresh and buoyed after signing an 18-month contract extension.
It will be a significant test for a Newcastle defence likely to have Williamson and Taylor playing together at the heart of it for only the second time this season.
“West Ham will make it a huge battle,” said the 30-year-old. “We will have to be mentally tough and be ready for them physically. It will be tough but we have to try to play football. It will be difficult against a Big Sam team. It always is. He is a fantastic manager with a lot of experience. We have to go there and try to keep a clean sheet.
“We are unfortunate to have lost Fabricio Coloccini our captain through injury. But we have strength in depth, that's what you saw last weekend against Manchester City. Hopefully we can take heart from our defending together against City and build on that.”
Both Williamson and Taylor performed solidly against an expensively assembled Manchester City forward line, even though Manuel Pellegrini's side went on to win 2-0 last Sunday.
Regardless of how the reversal came about, the 2012 Premier League champions inflicted the fourth consecutive defeat on Newcastle.
Williamson said: “We just have to get back to building that momentum again now because we have had a few defeats. But if you look at the performance of the team against City, individuals, there is no confidence loss. It’s about regrouping and getting back to winning ways.”
Newcastle were aggrieved last weekend when what seemed a perfect Cheik Tiote equaliser was ruled out for offside by referee Mike Jones. Williamson thinks it was time to move on as soon as the game finished.
He said: “There’s no kidding ourselves that City have incredible players, they all work together and are the favourites for the championship in my opinion, but we matched them. On another day we might have got that equaliser.
“We were on the wrong end of a decision that time hopefully we will get on the right end of a decision at West Ham. We can still take a lot of positives from that performance in to this weekend.
“We were all frustrated. When you play a team like Man City, you need to have all 11 players on their game, you need work-rate, quality, you have to have togetherness. We had all of those. The only thing we didn’t have was the rub of the green. We had, otherwise, a complete performance.
“Hopefully we will get the rub of the green this weekend, in the next game. What we have to make sure is that we approach the West Ham game in exactly the same manner.”