West Ham's Ashton plotting England comeback
Dean Ashton has vowed to fulfil his his England 'dream' - but not before he plays himself into form at West Ham.
The 23-year-old striker broke an ankle while preparing for what looked certain to be his first international cap just over a year ago and has not started a club game since.
But the £7.5million man will finally get a chance to play a full 90 minutes in Tuesday night's Carling Cup clash at Bristol Rovers.
'I'm ready now,' he said after playing the final half-hour of yesterday's 1-1 Barclays Premier League draw with Wigan.
'I'm available to start. I want to get back on track towards England again because that has always been my dream and I'm determined to make it come true.
'But before that, getting back for West Ham comes first and I know the gaffer has been right to make me be patient.
'It was a bad injury and he has been easing me back in, but I want to let loose now and get a start because it is difficult to come on from the bench like I have been and make an impact.'
After being unleashed by manager Alan Curbishley just beyond the hour mark yesterday Ashton soon had two shots blocked and then fired high over.
But Wigan's Austrian midfielder Paul Scharner briefly stole the show with a spectacular overhead kick to give his side a shock lead 12 minutes from time.
For a few moments, it looked like another calamitous Upton Park setback for the home side following the opening-day defeat to Manchester City.
Happily for the Hammers, Ashton combined with fellow substitutes Lee Bowyer and Luis Boa Morte to dig their team out of a hole within two minutes.
After Bowyer narrowly failed to convert the Portuguese winger's cross, he then fired home the same player's pass in the next attack which Ashton had started.
Curbishley was relieved to take a point even though his side had dominated and said: 'The crowd were getting a bit restless and that's why I brought Deano and the other substitutes on.
'It's true I have been easing Deano back in and what I've really wanted to do was to put him on when we had a lead.
'But he has worked so hard to get back to full fitness and the ankle trouble is behind him now.
'The big fear in pre-season was that something else would happen to him. We didn't want him starting straight away and getting tired and causing himself other problems.
'But we think we have him back to where he should be now and he'll get his 90 minutes on Tuesday in a competitive game and, hopefully, show us what he can do.
'Don't forget I've never seen him play a full game in a West Ham shirt and I've been here eight months but he's been realistic about the situation.
'We are all realistic - that's the word. We've just got to make sure we do the right thing for the team - and individuals, too.'
West Ham have splashed plenty of cash again on new players this summer.
Kieron Dyer, the latest £6million signing, made a promising home debut but they still lack a cutting edge with other new arrivals Julian Faubert (Achilles), Freddie Ljungberg (ankle) and Scott Parker (knee) on the treatment table.
Bowyer's goal was his first in 35 games - over two spells with Hammers - but it would have been an injustice to Wigan if frantic late pressure yielded a winner.
Wigan manager Chris Hutchings again made a point to the cynics who said he would be once again found wanting as Paul Jewell's successor - having been fired within four months of replacing him at Bradford six years ago.
Hutchings has now taken Wigan to third place in the Premier League and reminded his critics of their 10th-place finish the season before last.
'We are aiming for another season like that - not just survival like last season. We are far better than that - and more ambitious,' he said.
'I've great faith in the players we've brought in, great belief in my ability as a manager and some people writing us off doesn't bother me at all.'
Wigan were defensive for long periods but forged more clear-cut chances than West Ham for all the home team's possession.
Scharner missed a clear header, Jason Koumas grazed the outside of a post and substitute Julius Aghahowa forced a smart, instinctive stop from Robert Green - whose England rival Chris Kirkland hardly had a shot to save.