AFTER watching Andy Carroll return to the training pitch this week, Newcastle United head coach Steve Bruce has recalled the day he first caught a glimpse of the striker's potential when the striker burst on to the Premier League stage.

Carroll might not have scored that Boxing Day afternoon in 2008 but he was a constant menace to the Wigan defence for his 22 minutes as a substitute in a 2-1 defeat to Bruce’s Latics. Two years later, and with goals in the Championship and top-flight behind him, and he was on his way to Liverpool in a £35m move.

At that time he became the most expensive England striker and now Bruce, knowing all about the front-man’s injury problems in recent years, is desperate to help him back to action in a Newcastle shirt even though a comeback is still weeks away.

“I remember when I was manager of Wigan and he came on and smashed us to bits and I thought, 'Oh my God. What is that? That is a bit of a throwback if I ever saw one.' It's unfair to say he's old fashioned because that means to say everyone was like him. They weren't,” said Bruce.

“Listen, playing against Andy Carroll at his best, for his time, was as good as you got. That's why he went for a British record fee at the time.

“He was mobile, he had a very, very good left foot. He had a decent balance for someone his size. Usually, when you're that big, you become a little bit unbalanced but Andy, physically, was a handful. How often have we seen it? Put it in the box and he was very, very good on getting on the end of it.”

Bruce revealed on Tuesday Carroll had spent the morning on the training pitch doing some work with the first team players for the first time since leaving West Ham as a free agent at the end of last season.

The 30-year-old has not played since February because of ankle trouble. Bruce said: “He joined in and joined in the warm-up and the boxes and then there was a passing drill he came into and he was a floater in the possession so he took part in half the session so that was his first real hint of being back in amongst us.

“Now, we've got to progress that and see where he is but it's calculating a gamble. It's a gamble I'm convinced after seeing him that he'll take some part somewhere and if we can hopefully get him on the pitch then great.

“Thankfully, with what he has had to put up with, he is a strong minded individual and determined but no matter how determined you are or what you are, it's always difficult when you're carrying around an injury.

“And it must be the difficult part for any footballer - let alone Andy Carroll because it's now plagued him unfortunately for the best part of two-and-a-half years.

“For me, it's the most difficult thing to cope with. When you're not involved, all you seem to be doing is spending long, long, horrible hours in the gym and it becomes a mental thing as much as a physical thing so thankfully he is strong enough to hopefully see it through. It will be a boost for everyone to get him on the pitch, that's for sure.”