Newcastle manager Steve Bruce has said that Andy Carroll would have made a “world-class centre-half” after the striker played a pivotal role in the Magpies' 2-0 victory over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on Thursday night.
The Newcastle native provided the assist for the second goal of the evening, with VAR eventually adjudging the 30-year-old to be onside as his glancing header sent Jonjo Shelvey through one-on-one with Dean Henderson.
But it was his presence at the other end of the field that pleased Bruce the most, as the 6'4” hitman appeared time and again to help with defensive duties as the Blades peppered Martin Dubravka's goal throughout a hectic 90 minutes.
“Defensively, he would have made an absolutely world-class centre-half back in my day because he just goes and heads it and has that ability,” Bruce said after collecting a precious three points. “When he is around your 18-yard box he just heads it clear.
“He can be hugely important. We've got to make sure we look after him. He was performing in training for the four or five weeks before he, unfortunately, nicked a little rib muscle which is always painful.
“When that was okay he was ready to go. I just thought on a night like this, against their three centre-backs and the physicality of Sheffield United, he would cause them a problem.”
Thursday marked Carroll's first start for his boyhood club since returning to St. James' Park in the summer, with injuries having dogged his progress on the path to regaining full fitness.
And the timing couldn't have been better for Bruce, who must navigate a wickedly busy winter fixture schedule on Tyneside.
“He'll be a big asset to us if he stays well,” the manager added. “That is the big whole thing for me, my staff, my medical staff - to keep him right, because if he is right he'll be a handful for anybody.
“He does have a presence and it lifts people. He has a physicality and presence about him and, of course, he is a very good player when he is right. So he gives everyone a lift when he's in and around the training ground and I'm delighted.
“He's waited a very long time for his start but this was the place for him and it turned out okay.”
Another boost coming Bruce's way is the return of Dwight Gayle, who had been given a strict period of rest time in order to recover from a calf injury that no specialist could fully identify.
And with Bruce having been adamant that the club should hold on to the striker amid interest in the summer, the manager was pleased to announce that Gayle has stepped up his training.
“He has been out on the grass for the best part of a month,” Bruce said. “You can see him knocking on the door. He is not far short either. He is in my plans but the team is doing OK even though the top end is not scoring.
“I saw what he did last season at West Brom because he was in the Midlands. Right foot, left foot, 24 goals to nearly get them promoted. I don't want him to go anywhere and it would have to be a ridiculous offer and amount of money.
“Let's be fair, everyone's got their price but I don't want Dwight to go anywhere, that's for sure.”