Andy Carroll pays the price for lone ranger role at Liverpool

• Liverpool's £35m striker has not been allowed to flourish
• Carroll plays key role in FA Cup win over Manchester United

Andy Carroll for Carlos Tevez? It would make sense for Liverpool to go for a striker that better suits their style, albeit with a probable desire to want to leave after two years, and for Manchester City to reject what even now amounts to an unfavourable exchange. As was made plain on Saturday, however, a £35m problem is not solely of Carroll's making.

There were just seconds remaining in the first half at Anfield when José Reina collected the ball and looked to release a quick attack against Manchester United. Unfortunately nine red shirts were gathered in proximity. Up on the halfway line stood Carroll, trying on his lonesome to escape United's central defenders and an unforgiving spotlight. He ultimately made the right step on both counts.

Judgment comes quickly for the most expensive British footballer in history and a ridiculous price tag is the barometer by which the 22-year-old's every touch will be judged, fairly or not. Carroll never set the fee, nor can he avoid it, and there have been plenty of times when Kenny Dalglish's decision-making has been called into question since he moved for the Newcastle United centre-forward while Fernando Torres was heading for the exit last January. A week before Liverpool's victory over United in the FA Cup fourth round, in fact, when, on the basis of the phone-ins and forums, the director of football, Damien Comolli, was suddenly the only man in charge of the club's signings. Just the bad ones, mind.

That 3-1 defeat at Bolton Wanderers, a monumental wakeup call it has transpired with Liverpool at Wembley in the Carling Cup final and the fifth round of a wide open FA Cup, appeared to represent breaking point for the away supporters at the Reebok Stadium and the patience they invested in Carroll. He had sent Craig Bellamy through for Liverpool's goal with an astute flick-on but that did not suffice on a demoralising evening when his control, shooting and effort was poor.

As the closing moments of the first half showed on Saturday, however, indeed for much of the opening 45 minutes when he was left isolated against the United defence, Liverpool have not always allowed their investment to flourish. The support for Carroll had been more impressive off the pitch until Liverpool finally exploited his aerial and physical strength against depleted opponents. He responded as Dalglish must have prayed he would with John W Henry, the man who signs the cheques at Liverpool, looking down from the Anfield directors' box.

David de Gea's latest weak display in the United goal commenced when he was unable to dislodge Carroll as they challenged for Steven Gerrard's corner and Daniel Agger headed home too easily. The Liverpool striker also provided the assist for Dirk Kuyt's late winner and struck the woodwork when José Enrique's deep cross gave Carroll his one sight of goal in the game. To a striker of Carroll's stature, those are routine contributions. With Luis Suárez available for next Monday's home game against Tottenham Hotspur, he will also need it to be a turning point.

"I think it can be," Carroll said. "I thought I did well but now I've just got to keep on going and keep working on it and then it will come. Everyone at the club has given me a lot of support. Everyone is backing me and helping me along the way. I think I'm just getting into my stride now. Everyone is getting used to how I play and I'm getting used to everyone else but everyone is helping me and now I just need to get going."

Carroll expressed similar hopes after scoring the decisive breakthrough in the Merseyside derby at Everton in October. He was then dropped to the substitutes' bench for Liverpool's next two games and not introduced against either Manchester United or Norwich City, two of the home draws that have cost Dalglish's team this term. Carroll has not started more than three consecutive games all season.

As Liverpool supporters floated away from Anfield, Ian St John, who knows a thing or two about the striker's art, was insisting on Radio City that closer support from Bellamy and others would give Carroll greater opportunity to shine. Kuyt promised the England international exactly that when he took to the field in the 63rd minute against United, part of a double substitution that transformed the Liverpool performance.

"The header for the last goal was something I had told him. I said 'Win the header and flick it on' and he did that perfectly," Kuyt said. "I thought Andy played a great game and he worked really hard. I know how difficult it is to be alone up front but he battled throughout the game. He was important for us for both of our goals."

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