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Dave Evans, West Ham Correspondent
Thursday, September 13, 2012
West Ham striker Carlton Cole has the unenviable task of following Andy Carroll’s performance for West Ham this Saturday
There are few things more liable to divide opinion than the value of Carlton Cole to West Ham United.
The global warming debate and God’s existence rub shoulders with how good is Carlton Cole? And there are certainly two different camps.
There are some who have castigated the England international since the day he arrived at Upton Park in the summer of 2006.
Over 200 appearances and 57 goals later many are still unconvinced by his contributions to West Ham United.
Just three weeks ago someone was arrested for racist attacks on the player as well as his performance against Swansea City.
But there is just as strong a faction of Hammers fans who are loyal to the 28-year-old centre forward.
After all, Cole has been top scorer at the club for the past four seasons, reaching double figures on each occasion.
He also played a vital part in the play-off final win against Blackpool in May, scoring the opener and then setting-up Ricardo Vaz Te for the winner.
There is no question he gives everything for the Hammers and long gone are the days when his attitude was a matter of concern.
But Cole faces the biggest threat to his West Ham future in the next few weeks as he battles for a starting spot in the team, following the arrival of Andy Carroll on a season-long loan from Liverpool.
The £35 million man was awesome on his debut against Fulham, but injury means that Cole will get the chance to return to the starting line-up against Norwich City.
It will be a big test for the former Chelsea marksman.
This reporter has been a big fan of Cole in the past, but when you compared Carroll to Cole against Fulham, it was like watching two players from very different divisions.
Not only did the players around Carroll seem buoyed simply by his presence and upped their game, Carroll’s contribution to holding the ball up, nodding it on and generally causing chaos was clear for all to see.
Too often Cole has been left isolated in the lone striker role and he has gone on record to say that he prefers to play up front with a partner.
But sometimes his inability to hold the ball up, albeit under pressure, has meant his team-mates cannot get up the pitch quickly enough to support him.
Cole was linked with a move away from Upton Park, as he is every year it seems, as soon as Carroll had signed on the dotted line.
But instead he welcomes the arrival of the new man.
“Every year, you have to have people challenging for places because it is healthy for the club,” insisted Cole.
“It’s better to be always on your toes and I welcome a challenge like Andy Carroll, because he is one of the best target men around in the Premier League and it is just going to reinvigorate me to be a better West Ham player.”
Carroll has made a positive impact, but he is out of the picture for a while now and Cole must battle with Mali international Modibo Maiga for the striking role at Carrow Road on Saturday.
Maiga has the advantage of already notching his first goal of the season for the club in the Capital One Cup clash against Crewe Alexandra, while he was also on target for Mali over the weekend.
But it is Cole who has the Premier League experience and that should get him the first crack of the whip from manager Sam Allardyce against the Canaries.
Then, it is up to him to take his chance and show that he is still capable of scoring in the top flight.
Carroll, though, is a tough act to follow.