The knowing groans of disappointment when Andy Carroll’s season was ended back in February were tempered by the hope the team could maintain the early season momentum without him.
The over-reliance on the giant Geordie the pervious season had almost cost the club’s Premier League status, and it was his return which sparked the survival challenge.
However, the No.9’s knee surgery this year coincided with injuries to all the other front line strikers, and his loss has once again been significant.
When he came back into the squad after recovering from a pre-season injury in New Zealand, there were concerns Sam Allardyce would sacrifice the free flowing football that had reaped such rich rewards in the opening matches.
Instead, his return to the team further inspired some positive performances, and suggested the squad was in a much stronger position.
Some argue the team copes just as well without him, and the form earlier in the season was due to Allardyce reluctantly adopting a style which simply had to cope without Carroll.
But there is little doubt he offers something different, and his overall play is a huge benefit to the team.
Although not holding a great goal scoring record since arriving at the club, his range of passing in the final third is that of an intelligent player, and his defensive abilities are unquestionable.
Although he was absent for the team’s finest couple of victories this season, he was also absent for all of the worst results.
The team has won only once in six fixtures since the Southampton game, and managed just four goals.
What has been missing since the early games is a settled strike partnership. Carroll and Sakho up front under a manager who wants to play attractive football could deliver unprecedented success.
A more stylishly-minded manager would really get him doing the business and not at the expense of good football. Unfortunately it’s going to take more than simply a change of manager to keep him fit.