Home is where, noted Robert Frost, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. So it was that this afternoon Carlton Cole made his long awaited comeback for West Ham in a behind-closed-doors friendly against Charlton Athletic. A West Ham XI featuring the out-of-contract striker were beaten 4-2 as Cole - who played alongside former Fulham and Borussia Dortmund striker Mladen Petric in attack - made his first appearance at the Boleyn Ground since the end of last season. The striker parted ways with the club at the end of his contract during the summer but has joined up with his former club amid a drastic striker shortage with Andy Carroll's return date still unknown. With the international break taking precedence over the next six days, Cole was joined by a number of first team players in the West Ham side, featuring alongside Guy Demel, James Tomkins, Joe Cole, Stewart Downing, and Matt Jarvis.
Having made three appearances for the Hammers since joining them in September, it was another new recruit Petric who bagged his first goal in claret and blue on 24 minutes with an emphatic header from a Jarvis cross. Having spurned a similar chance earlier when looping an effort into the arms of Addicks 'keeper Ben Alnwick, this time the 30-year-old Croat timed his leap perfectly to nod home a left-wing centre. The lead, however, would last little more than two minutes; Jordan Cook broke free down the right, before crossing for Basile Camerling to neatly volley into the far corner. It was fitting reward for the 26-year-old French trialist who had earlier tried his luck from range, seeing his effort flash narrowly wide of Adrian's right-hand upright. The Championship side completed the turnaround five minutes before the interval, when Demel was adjudged to have impeded Pigott in the area. Pigott picked himself up to dispatch the resulting spot-kick, albeit one that just evaded the dive of Adrian.
Within 90 seconds of the restart Petric came close to restoring parity as his firmly struck free-kick curled just the wrong side of the post. Moments later and Pelly Ruddock should really have headed the Hammers level, but powered Downing's corner over the bar from six yards out. It was to prove a costly miss as the Addicks soon doubled their advantage. Camerling seized upon Cook's fine through ball and though Adrian repelled his initial effort, he was powerless to prevent Pigott from slotting home the rebound to put the visitors firmly in the ascendency.
It was all change for the hosts on the hour, with George Moncur, Kieran Sadlier and Callum Driver joining the fray, in place of Tomkins, Downing and Cole. It had the desired effect too, as Leo Chambers lofted a delightful ball into the path of Moncur, who took a touch before curling into the far corner from close range to give United a fighting chance of getting back on level terms. However the south east London side had other ideas and the win was finally sealed three minutes from time. Veteran midfielder Mark Gower, who joined Athletic on a free transfer in the summer, pounced on a ball cannoning around the Hammers box to strike home a measured volley via the inside of the post.
West Ham United first-team coach Ian Hendon declared himself satisfied with "a worthwhile exercise", even if the result left much to be desired. Despite the defeat at the Boleyn Ground, he insisted there was plenty to be pleased about, not least a whole host of senior players getting much-needed minutes. "The lads that needed minutes got minutes," Hendon told West Ham TV. "It's not always about the result but obviously we want to win games, no matter what they are. That's the competitive spirit in us as coaches, the manager and also the players. It's a disappointing result, but all in all, a good workout and some minutes on the board for some of the lads that needed them."
Chief among those was Cole, who took his first step towards earning that new contract. Sam Allardyce announced at the end of last month that the 29-year-old will be offered a short term deal once he has improved his fitness levels and, according to reports in the press, today's game was specifically arranged to "determine the future" of the popular front man. The former England international left the Hammers at the end of the previous campaign after his contract with the east London club had run out, with Cole and his employers failing to reach agreement over terms on a new deal to keep the striker in the capital. However, after Cole was then unable to find himself a new team for this season, despite interest in his services from Championship outfit Queens Park Rangers, the forward returned to West Ham in search of a short-term deal for this campaign. Like the Honourable Schoolboy, perhaps home truly is where you go when you run out of homes.
Over-weight or not, it has become alarmingly clear just why West Ham could do with a fighting-fit Carlton Cole in their ranks. Prior to last weekend's victory at Spurs, the side had managed just four goals from their opening six fixtures with lone striker Modibo Maiga yet to score. The Malian had started every game before Sunday but has proved uninspiring and, despite playing for a team lacking strikers, has only managed to finish three of his six games. On top of his goal drought, Maiga has only had three shots on target and five off target in his six games, giving him a shot accuracy of 38%. Intriguingly, last season, Carroll also managed a shot accuracy of 38%, however, he did have 63 shots and scored more than every other West Ham striker combined.
Naturally, the Irons are pining for Carroll’s return for more than just the threat that he himself poses to goal. Last season, reports Squawka's Damian Buxton, the big striker won 65% of his headed duals, compared to 44% won by Maiga. In a Sam Allardyce side the lone striker’s ability to head and hold up the ball is key to involving the midfield, and the loss of Carroll has had a knock on effect on the rest of the side. Carroll creates more chances for his teammates than both Maiga and Cole. In 24 games Carroll created 34 chances – the only one of the three to create more than one chance per game. Maiga has created five in six games so far this season. Whilst Cole may not be the answer in this respect – languishing behind on 11 chances created in 27 games last season- he can at least be counted on to provide the physical presence that has been lacking so far this season. The Hammers are still to face four of the current top five in the Premier League, as well as the current Champions, prior to Andy Carroll's likely return. In their current plight, you don't have to consult Paddy Power for the best prices on each West Ham match to know Carlton Cole could be a gamble worth taking.
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