Hartlepool United's January transfer business: What are Pools getting with Southport's Marcus Carver?
When Marcus Carver left Accrington Stanley in 2016 the thought of making a return to the Football League seemed a distant one.
Carver, to excuse a pun, has carved a path in non-league with Chorley and, most recently, Southport over the last six years before discovering his dream with Hartlepool United.
The 28-year-old has notched 12 goals in 17 appearances in the National League North so far this season, 17 in total, to register the interest of a number of clubs in the Football League but it was Graeme Lee’s side who won the race for his signature.
“I am delighted to get Marcus in with us. He has the attitude, character and work ethic we are looking for,” Lee said of his arrival.
“He has already scored 17 goals this season and hopefully more to come in blue and white.”
But just what are Pools getting for their investment?
The main ingredient supporters will be keen on is the goals scored tally which is very good at this stage of a season, albeit at a lower level than League Two.
But delve a little deeper into some of the goals he has scored at Southport this season and you learn a little more as to what kind of a striker Carver is.
One thing which immediately becomes clear is Carver’s goal scoring instinct within the penalty area. All 12 of his goals in the National League North have come from inside the box.
But while that may represent Carver as something of a ‘fox in the box’ he has proven he can score a variety of goals.
Take his goal at Spennymoor Town for example where he peels off from a crowd of defenders in anticipation of a teammate winning the initial header in the box before cushioning a delightful looping volley over the keeper. It was instinctive in its nature and brilliant in its execution.
In his welcome interview Carver suggests Pools fans can expect him to be full of energy and chase down lost causes and his goal against Darlington is perhaps the best example of this.
At 2-0 up Carver could have been forgiven for leaving an optimistic long ball to run on through to the goalkeeper but instead the 28-year-old pressed forward, forcing Quakers stopper Tommy Taylor into an error before calmly slotting home from a tight angle.
A hat-trick against Boston again exhibited his instinctive nature and willingness to get beyond his marker to meet a cross at the front post - something which will please the likes of David Ferguson and Jamie Sterry.
And although Nicky Featherstone may have something to say about it, Carver can take a penalty too with two of his 12 league goals emphatically dispatched from the spot.
But while an eye test of his goals can be encouraging for supporters, equally as pleasing is Carver’s reasoning for a move to the Suit Direct Stadium.
“At the age of 28, if someone had told me this five years ago I would have laughed, but my form this season has obviously earned me a chance,” Carver told the club website.
“I saw that Barrow, Carlisle and Hartlepool were interested. It was exciting. I was glad that people had taken notice and I wasn’t just going under the radar and now I’m here I’m excited.
“I think now I’ve come to a bit of a peak of my career. I’ve matured a lot as a player and as a person and I think now is the time to step forward.”
There is a real determination to Carver’s response. You can sense he felt his chance at a shot back in the Football League had more than likely evaporated but now that it is here, he is going to do everything to grasp it.
However, anyone can watch clips of a player and anyone can listen to words from an interview but what do Carver’s stats tell us about what Pools might be getting?
Carver has an expected goals total of 8.96 this season as per data experts Wyscout, comfortably more than any other Pools player, averaging 0.62 goals per game which alongside Mark Cullen (0.26) and Luke Molyneux (0.18) means he tends to find himself more in areas with a higher probability of finding the target.
While Cullen (2.99) and Molyneux (4.25) are also above their xG totals this season, Carver’s tally of 12 goals against an xG of 8.96 demonstrates how clinical he has been as well.
Beyond his performance in front of goal what else can some of Carver’s stats tell us about his game?
The 28-year-old has won 100 offensive duels this season, 12 more than Cullen but some way short of Molyneux’s 282 given the desire of the former Sunderland man to dribble at defenders.
Carver has taken 41 touches in the penalty area, taken 32 shots and made 11 progressive runs which holds in a similar bracket to Molyneux and Matty Daly in the Pools squad albeit with slightly fewer appearances.
So what does this mean for Pools? Well, in Carver they are getting a player who is performing similarly or above some of the current stats within the Pools squad and someone who knows where the back of the net is.
Yes, Carver must demonstrate he can make the step back up to the Football League. The jump to League Two is significant but he’s not coming in without experience.
Having come through the ranks with Accrington, and featured over 40 times in that period, he understands the demands of league football.
But what Carver has done is gone away and learned his trade in non-league to round himself both as a player and as a person for the step back up.
He has a point to prove, he is determined and he has the ability. Let’s see if it translates onto the field at the Suit Direct Stadium.