Steve Bruce: My 'darkest hour' at Sunderland

Steve Bruce.Steve Bruce.
Steve Bruce.
Andy Carroll gave Steve Bruce his “darkest hour” in management – now he wants to brighten up his Newcastle United attack.

Carroll, re-signed on transfer deadline day as a free agent, is set to make his long-awaited second debut for his boyhood club in this afternoon’s home game against Brighton and Hove Albion.

The Gateshead-born striker has come through two weeks of training to prove his fitness to Bruce, who was in charge of the Sunderland side which a Carroll-inspired Newcastle beat 5-1 at St James’s Park in October 2010.

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Carroll did everything but score as Kevin Nolan, his close friend, netted a hat-trick.

Steve Bruce during Sunderland's 5-1 defeat at St James's Park.Steve Bruce during Sunderland's 5-1 defeat at St James's Park.
Steve Bruce during Sunderland's 5-1 defeat at St James's Park.

Asked about Carroll’s performance that day, Bruce said: “You're going to remind me of that, are you? My darkest hour!

“He was unplayable that day. He absolutely bullied us from start to finish, and when he's like that, as I said at that time, he was as good as you'd get. You look at the big, powerful No9s.

“There were times when he was younger when he was unplayable. When he was at his peak. If we see a glimpse of that it will be worth the wait.”

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Carroll was sold by United to Liverpool for a British-record £35million fee three months later. He went on to join West Ham United, initially on loan, 18 months later.

Andy Carroll against Sunderland.Andy Carroll against Sunderland.
Andy Carroll against Sunderland.

However, his career has been blighted by ankle problems, and the 30-year-old had surgery late last season.

Carroll, having undergone a lengthy rehabilitation, has been pushing for a first-team comeback over the past fortnight.

“He’s done everything he can in rehabilitation,” said Bruce, Newcastle’s head coach. “He’s desperate to come back. It has given everyone a shot in the arm at the right time. As a footballer in his time he was as good as they get.

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“If he’s in and around it as a sub, take it step by step. Can we get him through 20 minutes? Half an hour? Let's see how his ankle is. He goes out, trains on it, and we have to manage it that it doesn't swell. It’s ongoing. But he’s done everything he can.

Andy Carroll.Andy Carroll.
Andy Carroll.

“He decided that there’s no more cotton wool. There comes a stage in rehab when you've done all the running and fitness stuff. This is as good as it is going to get, and you have to join in with it. The tackling ... will the ankle stand up to it? We and he have done all we can.

“He was in Benfield School the other week swimming. He's wanted to get out there. There comes a time when this is as good as it's gets. He's joined in all week, which is important. He's had a few rattles of it, twisting and turning.”

Joelinton, handed the No9 shirt that was once Carroll’s after his £40million summer move from Hoffenheim, will lead the line against Brighton, a point ahead of third-bottom Newcastle.

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However, Bruce – who also has winger Allain Saint-Maximin back from injury – can envisage fielding them both in the same team given Joelinton’s versatility.

Bruce said: “Why not? Joelinton played a lot of his games towards the left. I saw Hoffenheim versus Man City in the Champions League last season, and Jo played towards the left.

“A lot of teams now play with three out-and-out forwards. (Leroy) Sane and (Mo) Salah don't play as wingers, do they? They're always in the pitch. So, why not?

“We've got Allan as well, who’s getting fit, which is important to us too, because he can give something a bit different. We haven't had that change of threat, so that will help us.”

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Carroll quickly got stuck into United’s defenders in his first session of full-contact training.

“He joined in last Thursday with no real contact, so he was a floater,” said Bruce. “Friday was the same, and then he did a bit more at the weekend.

“He's basically trained with the squad all week. The gloves were off. It doesn't take long for him to get stuck in, does it? People were aware he was on the training ground, that's for sure. He'd unsettle any bugger by the way he rampages around.”

Bruce believes, above all else, that Carroll “deserves a break” after years of ankle problems

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“The big thing is he deserves a break,” said Bruce. “When you hear what's happened to his ankle – the screws weren't big enough, the operation wasn't a success – to have to go through and do it again, mentally, you have to stay with it.

“Mentally, he's tough as they come. He has to be to get over it and put himself in this position, which has been a lot of hard work.”

Carroll is also older and wiser.

“It’s not the young Andy Carroll any more – it’s an experienced Andy Carroll,” said Bruce. “When we were signing him, it was a case of can he be a help in the dressing room?

“He knows what it’s like to play at this club and the demands of the club. In that respect, he’s been terrific. We’ve seen a upturn in training, because he’s been out there too, he’s given everybody a lift.”