Pardew ready to give injured stars the time they need
West Ham manager Alan Pardew is prepared to wait until an hour before kick-off to decide whether £7.25million striker Dean Ashton and winger Matthew Etherington will play in the FA Cup final against Liverpool.
Fears grew for the injured pair's participation in the Millennium Stadium showpiece on Saturday when neither were involved in preparation at the club's Chadwell Heath base today but Pardew refused to rule them out.
Ashton's hamstring strain, sustained in the win over West Brom at The Hawthorns 10 days ago, has been under constant treatment although a scan has revealed no major damage.
It would be a big blow, however, if the former Norwich striker could not make the starting line-up for the final as Pardew has been considering to play him as a lone-striker, with Marlon Harewood and Etherington in wide roles.
Etherington's pace and guile on the flanks has been a key feature for the Hammers all season but after being withdrawn as a precaution from the warm-up for the Albion match with an abductor muscle strain, he sprained an ankle in training.
Pardew has used reserve players similar in style to Ashton and Etherington in training routines this week but wants to see the former's reaction to some running exercises.
Earlier this week the manager rated Ashton a 60-40 bet for the final and added: 'Matthew Etherington has given himself a better chance as well.
'The swelling on his ankle has gone right down since it happened last Friday and it is just a question of whether there will be enough strength in it now.'
It seems unlikely Pardew will risk both players at Cardiff but he said: 'If it is only pain they are suffering I would ask them to play. Everything is on hold until two o'clock on Saturday.'
With Hayden Mullins suspended - Liverpool's Luis Garcia is also banned after both were sent off in a league clash last month - Carl Fletcher, who started the season on loan to Watford, looks favourite for a vacant midfield place following his goal against Tottenham last Sunday.
Bobby Zamora stands by to deputise for Ashton, with veteran Teddy Sheringham on the bench.