The end when it came was all too appropriate. No fanfare, no last hurrah. Not even the decency and respect of a formal club statement. Just a suitably vague line in the manager’s comments after a soporific 1-0 defeat at an empty non-league ground. “He’s out of contract. I had a conversation with Andy. I think he wants to go and play.”

Leaving aside the implication that he might have stayed had he been content to warm the bench, it seems we can finally call time on Andy Carroll’s Newcastle career. A span of 15 years, 117 appearances and 32 goals. If only for the memories of the barnstorming original, we should pause and wish him well.

If my abiding memory of the first raw, dynamic, unplayable Carroll is that glorious left-footed drive from the edge of the box that triumphantly dispatched Liverpool at St James’ in December 2010, then it was the Hawthorns in March 2021 that summed up his second coming. Precisely 35 seconds as an injury time substitute in quite possibly the poorest, most tedious match in a poor and tedious season. Just enough time to find himself under a goal kick in the centre circle, just enough time to give away a free kick and crumple to the ground. The purest display imaginable of Andy Carroll’s second coming. Grimly perfect in its simple, complete pointlessness.

Sadly, Carroll’s season last year epitomised everything that is wrong with the club and its management. A cheap stopgap signing, extended for a second season as the quickest and most convenient way to pad out the 25-man squad with back-up centre forward options for another season. Well, notional options, at least.

Because Carroll’s second stint also summed up perfectly the contradictions and inconsistencies in squad building and match day selection that characterise the Bruce era, the unfathomable gap between public pronouncements and managerial actions. “He’s certainly been a big help to me in the last couple of years, that’s for sure”, opined Bruce of Carroll at the weekend, in much the same way he has asserted the value of numerous players he has failed to select over the last two years. Given his injury record and Bruce’s public praise, you could be forgiven for thinking that it could only have beenanother series of knocks and tweaks that limited Carroll to just 381 minutes in the league last season.

But the reality is that Carroll was officially unavailable for only one Premier League game through injury all last season, the calf injury that kept him our of the trip to Selhurst Park in November, and he was named in all but three matchday squads.If we consider that nearly 75% of those minutes played came in four matches that he started in the first half of the season, then the pattern of Carroll’s deployment becomes puzzling to say the least, especially given that Wilson missed 11 matches through injury and our manager is on record as wanting to play with two strikers. In fact, while Wilson was absent for 10 matches in the second half of the season Carroll notched up a grand total of 21 minutes on the pitch across 19 matches.

This is not to say that Carroll was the answer to our attacking problems last season. His limited mobility only further constrained a team that struggled for so long, playing without the ball in a deeply conservative system. But there were glimpses that he might have something to offer, notably the performance at Arsenal in the FA Cup where he created more chances in one match than we’d managed in the entire month before. That late shot across goal still nestles in the corner in my mind, rather than carrying on past the post. He started the next two league games too, only to then disappear almost completely from view, much like Eliot Anderson and Matty Longstaff. All talked up but, ultimately, victims of Bruce’s complete lack of coherent planning.

On the basis of what we saw last season, it doesn’t seem fanciful to suggest that Carroll could secure a contract elsewhere and do a reasonable job. He’s still only 32, and there has been talk of interest from overseas. A personal view is that a destination in the Championship might be a more realistic option if he wants to keep on playing.

To be honest, though, it’s a relief from a Newcastle perspective to discover that Carroll has been released. Another contract would have smacked of desperation, final confirmation, as if it were needed, that the club has no long-term plan. It would have been a symbolic act of a sclerotic regime stumbling aimlessly on, Carroll’s creaking body and lumbering frame an embodiment of the club made flesh. Instead, we have at least moved on.

But Carroll’s departure also demands a replacement. Outstanding as he is, Wilson’s injury record suggests he will likely miss a substantial number of games each season, and last season showed that there is no plan B within the current squad. Bruce clearly has no faith in Gayle, for all his public pronouncements to the contrary, and none of the other attacking options – Joelinton, Almirón, Fraser, Saint Maximin – has shown that they can convince as an out and out striker.

Only Newcastle United in its current terminal dysfunction could suffer a gaping hole in its squad from the departure of a player who for the last half season averaged only one minute per game despite being available. But then no club is like Newcastle United at the moment.

Matthew Philpotts