Andy Carroll is hoping his injury misery is behind him as he attempts to help lift the dark clouds hanging over Newcastle.
The 30-year-old striker pulled on the black and white shirt for the first time at St James’ Park since Boxing Day 2010 when he was introduced as a late substitute in Saturday evening’s 0-0 draw with Brighton.
It was his first taste of competitive action since February as a result of an ankle injury which required surgery and then a further procedure, and the former England, Liverpool and West Ham forward is now hoping his troubles are firmly behind him.
Gateshead-born Carroll, who rejoined Newcastle in the summer after being released by the Hammers, said: “I have been working really hard. I did rehab at West Ham and back here at Newcastle.
“I’m in a good place at the moment and hopefully it continues.”
If he had dreamed of returning to Tyneside in glorious fashion, Carroll’s homecoming proved rather more mundane with Steve Bruce’s men turning in a dreadfully disjointed performance against a Brighton side which dominated the midfield battle and enjoyed 71 per cent of the possession.
Ultimately, the visitors were made to pay for a lack of killer instinct in front of goal with substitute Aaron Connolly coming closest to breaking the deadlock with an attempt which was acrobatically hooked off the line by Fabian Schar.
The Magpies, who saw £61million strikeforce Miguel Almiron and Joelinton each squander gilt-edged first-half chances, rallied belatedly after the introductions of winger Allan Saint-Maximin and then Carroll, but the acclaim the latter received from the stands represented an oasis amid a desert of discontent.
Carroll said: “I was warming up on the side and heard the cheer, it was amazing. Then when I came on it was even bigger. It felt amazing.”
If the locals inside St James’ among a crowd of just 43,316 – the lowest for a Premier League game since August 2011 – made their feelings abundantly clear, so too did the 9,000 or so who stayed in protest at Mike Ashley’s ownership.
Joe Halliday, a member of the protest group Toon for Change, said: “The protest movement against Ashley is growing and we have nothing but respect for fans who, like us, are sacrificing going to games in order to take a stand against Ashley.
“Our group will continue calling for fans to boycott televised matches and we’re working alongside other protest groups to do everything we can to make this Ashley’s winter of discontent.”
Seagulls boss Graham Potter was disappointed to be leaving with just a point, but was at least able to reflect upon an impressive league debut for 21-year-old Steven Alzate.
He said: “I thought he did really well, I’m really pleased for him. If you ask the boys, they’re not surprised because he’s trained with us every day and he’s shown that quality daily.
“It’s just the next step to play, and we had a couple of injuries, so it allows him to come and play – but he probably deserved it on merit anyway, to be honest with you.”