Just when we thought the Cole conundrum had been solved - sell him to Liverpool - Carlton pops up and throws a bloody great spanner in the works. His two second half goals - the first time he has scored twice in the same game for EIGHT YEARS - has suddenly put the cat amongst the pigeons. He didn't just look good, he looked brilliant!
Now we mustn't get carried away of course, because the first 45 minutes did not showcase Cole's talents quite so well. In fact, there was one classic Cole moment when he dummied the ball out for a Man Utd throw, stepping over the ball to let it run ahead of him, only to realise too late that he was straddling the touch line! On another occasion, Cole was very much second to a dangerous cross into the box, being out jumped and out thought by a United defender. He looked laboured to me first half and the ball was still not sticking to him. Obinna looked ten times better!
But what a change a goal brought. The header was deliciously good and the run across the front of his defender to meet Obinna's cross was superb. And Cole's second was one of the best centre forward goals you will ever see. Cole showed strength, great control and speed of thought in rolling his marker, and finished brilliantly. I said last night that Pele would be proud of that goal and I stand by that!
And there, in a nutshell, is a the frustrating enigma that is Carlton Cole. When his confidence is high, he is as good as anybody: he scores with his right foot, his left foot and his head; he has great strength and wonderful pace; and possesses surprisingly good close control for a big man. It was Ranieri, I think, who described him as the most talented young player he ever worked with, and last night, in the second half, we saw what looked like the real deal. £10m for one of the most naturally gifted strikers in the game? Not enough surely?
Cole's detractors will point to the understrength United team last night, and use this too as a way to belittle the achievement of Grant in conjuring up that performance. They will overlook the fact that United came to Upton Park last season WITHOUT a defence and still thumped Zola's misfits 4-0. The Mancs' back four read Fletcher, Neville, Brown and Evra, and Neville was replaced by Carrick after half an hour. Cole didn't play in that one. Had he done, the score might have been different!
So what do we do with Carlton now? Do we sell him? I wouldn't. Does he play against Sunderland? Logic says yes, but that would mean leaving out either Obinna or Piquionne unless Grant fancies cutting his own throat by reverting to 4-3-3 again!
The Cole conundrum continues.