There was a time, prior to the appointment of Slaven Bilic as West Ham manager, when the news that they could be without Andy Carroll for up to six weeks would be nothing short of disastrous.
It was with same sense of foreboding that Bilic greeted the news of Carroll’s latest injury, sustained against Astra Giurgiu last midweek, telling reporters, “it’s a big problem for us without him. We’re counting on him big time.”
The way the Irons laboured to a 1-0 win over an off-the-pace Bournemouth in the striker’s absence, eventually ending the Cherries’ resistance five minutes from time thanks to a Michail Antonio header, hardly provided cause for confidence going forward.
Yet, in the dugout epoch of the Gibson-Firebird-toting Croat, they have typically fared a good deal better when the Geordie Pterodactyl is absent from the starting XI than when he has been present.
Bilic’s freshman year at the helm saw him start the former Liverpool and Newcastle number nine on 16 occasions, during which time the club won 31% of their matches and lost the same percentage.
The 31 matches in which he was omitted from the line-up from the off during 2015/16 saw a good deal more positive outcomes for United.
No less than 42% of games without Carroll in from the off ended up yielding victories, while a mere 16% saw them defeated.
Such numbers bode well for the Irons’ upcoming Europa League play-off round second-leg encounter with Astra Giurgiu, the Romanian outfit that bounced them from the competition one stage earlier last year.
West Ham are just 2/5 for victory, with their guests 6/1 long-shots and the draw similarly easy to back at 16/5, despite missing their most obvious centre forward.
Manuel Lanzini and Dimitri Payet are both expected to return to the team for the clash, further enhancing their chances of a similarly dominant home victory to the one recorded over Domzale in there previous round.
The Irons put three unanswered goals past the Slovenians at the London Stadium and they’re 11/10 to reward their backers on the (-1) handicap against Astra.