Carroll is key to England's fortunes

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It's not uncommon for players to make late runs into tournament squads but, for Andy Carroll, it has been a particularly circuitous route since scoring his only goal for England in a 1-1 friendly draw against Ghana at Wembley in March 2011.

At the time, the former Newcastle United striker - who moved to Liverpool in a club record £35million deal less than two months prior to his maiden international strike - looked to be the future of the national side.

However, a combination of poor form, injury, and off-field misdemeanours, saw the 23-year-old quickly slip to fourth, even fifth choice Three Lions striker, as significant questions began to be raised over the direction of Carroll's career.

Fast-forward 15 months, though, and the Gateshead born battering-ram has enjoyed a swift promotion off the back of a strong finish to the 2011-12 campaign, and is in line to start England's opening game in Euro 2012 against France on June 11.

If Saturday's 1-0 friendly victory over Norway is anything to go by, Roy Hodgson could pick a new-look strike pairing with Manchester United winger Ashley Young - who scored in an impressive outing in Oslo - poised to play in the hole behind the resurgent striker.

Three Lions captain, and Carroll's club teammate Steven Gerrard, reflected: "I thought Andy did okay [against Norway]. It was all eyes on him because of the form he showed when he finished the season for Liverpool. He will be a big asset for this team and this squad if he can play to his level.

"Andy worked so hard and put a real shift in. He always does that and that's what you've got to understand with him. Not only is his form good at the moment, he is putting in a hell of a lot of hard work for the team."

The biggest positive to come from the ultimately drab affair against the Norwegians was the frequency with which the front men interchanged positions, offering a fluidity that often made England difficult to pin down.

"It's a good combination and something we have been working on," reflected Young in the aftermath of the win. "He's [Carroll] a fantastic player to be with. He will get in the box and score goals and everyone was delighted with his performance."

At the Ullevaal Stadion, there were many times when Carroll was actually playing in the hole and Young was the more advanced player, on the shoulder of the opposition's defence. It's a partnership that will likely be given finer tuning in the final warm-up game against Belgium this weekend.

"It's good sometimes if your bigger man is the one who drops into that space between midfield and [the opposition] defence and your quick man is the one on the shoulder of the defenders," explained Hodgson. "We did that a lot at Fulham with Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson.

"Bobby was very often the man who dropped into the hole and Andy was the one looking to play on the shoulder. The good thing with these two [Young and Carroll] is they can do it both. Ashley can drop in and Andy can move up."

Suddenly, the absence of Wayne Rooney for the first two group games through suspension doesn't seem nearly as demoralising. And, from the way Hodgson was speaking, when he does return he will compete with Young for the right to partner Carroll in the support-striker role for the final group game against Ukraine.

Young will likely retain his place in the starting line-up, but be pushed out wide in his more familiar left wing position. It's a tactical change that will also see Stewart Downing demoted, and with that make considerable improvement to the area that currently lacks most cutting edge and attacking penetration.

Hodgson's preference to play with a classic No.9 gives Carroll a distinct advantage this summer, so limited are England's forward options. It's a problem further highlighted by the growing concerns over the fitness of Danny Welbeck, who is arguably the next viable candidate, but by no means a traditional target man either.

Having struggled to make an impression beyond being an expensive acquisition since he arrived at Anfield, Carroll's recent improvement has been so staggering he is now first-choice striker by some distance.

Barely recognisable from the out-of-form player that underperformed for Liverpool for the majority of last season, he has now been thrust into the England fold. His power, his presence, and the shape that Hodgson wants England to play with in Poland and Ukraine, means Carroll's contribution will be integral.

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Andrew Carroll

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