What's the point of Kevin Nolan?
But while Carroll is a good all-round centre-forward when fully fit, Nolan is a particularly strange player. Frankly, his skillset appears extremely limited – for an attacking midfielder, he offers extremely little in the way of technical ability, being neither a reliable passer nor a gifted creator. He is, almost exclusively, a goalscorer. Unusually for a midfielder, that might be his only major strength.
The most noticeable feature is how little he’s involved– he attempts only 15 passes throughout the 90 minutes. It’s also amazing how infrequently he completes a pass in the attacking third – for a player designed to play at the top of the midfield triangle, it’s a remarkably poor contribution.
But there are also a couple of positive features – almost all his defensive contributions (2 interceptions, 2 blocks, 2 tackles and 5 clearances) are successful, underlining the combative style that makes him perfect for an Allardyce side. And, of course, Nolan got his goal.
With Carroll out injured, Modibo Maiga played the centre-forward role, but Nolan combined with the Malian forward only twice throughout the contest – and neither occasion was in a particularly dangerous position. When Carroll returns, Nolan might find himself playing a more prominent role.
It would be unfair to highlight Nolan’s limitations purely from one match, but this sums up his style perfectly. Last season at West Ham, he finished as West Ham’s top goalscorer with 10 goals. That was a crucial contribution – Carroll managed only seven, while the third-top goalscorer was Mark Noble, whose goals all came from penalties or free-kicks. Nolan recorded 78 shots throughout the campaign, only one fewer than Carroll.
99/00 0 goals in 4 games*, 00/01 3 in 37*, 01/02 8 in 39, 02/03 1 in 36, 03/04 12 in 44, 04/05 4 in 42, 05/06 11 in 48, 06/07 5 in 34, 07/08 5 in 39, 08/09 1 in 22. BOLTON 48 in 345
08/09 0 in 11, 09/10 18 in 48*, 10/11 12 in 32. NEWCASTLE 30 in 91
11/12 12 in 45*, 12/13 10 in 38, 13/14 1 in 1. WEST HAM 23 in 84
TOTAL 101 in 520 All Premier League except *second-tier
Again, however, his all-round play was extremely limited. He created only 28 chances in 35 games, contributing just two assists, and successfully dribbled past opponent only four times all season. He also had a surprisingly poor aerial record, winning only 31% of his duels.
Then again, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at that record – when interviewed by FourFourTwo 11 years ago, Nolan was frank about his major weakness: “I can't head the ball,” he admitted – which makes it particularly surprising he started out as a centre-back.