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By ESPN Staff

Curbishley warns suitors against Ashton bid

Alan Curbishley insists West Ham are not prepared to sell Dean Ashton - and he is ready to spend the summer fighting off potential suitors.

Manchester United have already been linked with a move for Ashton, who has returned to top form in the closing weeks of the season after overcoming a career-threatening broken ankle.

'Every club outside the top four has this problem every summer. Even Spurs and people like that are going to come under pressure,' said Curbishley.

'But since the new group took over West Ham we have tried to push forward and I don't see selling players as a way of pushing forward.

'The people who left last summer (Nigel Reo-Coker, Marlon Harewood, Yossi Benayoun) asked to go and we wanted to have a change around.

'I want to see certain combinations of players that I haven't had a chance to see. I want to play Craig Bellamy with Dean Ashton. I am enthusiastic about when we join up again.'

Curbishley, who confirmed West Ham have not had any contact from other clubs over Ashton, meets with the board on Monday to thrash out his own summer transfer plans, which may not be extensive.

West Ham splashed out £29million last summer but spent most of the season without any of their big-name arrivals as Bellamy, Kieron Dyer, Freddie Ljungberg, Julien Faubert and Scott Parker suffered a catalogue of injuries.

The Hammers missed their pace, creativity and goals, so Curbishley takes the view that just getting them fit will be like making a handful of new signings.

And he believes West Ham will have a squad capable of challenging for a top-six finish next year.

'All the players missing are the pacey players and the offensive players, players who can unlock a team at home and be more dangerous away from home on the break,' said Curbishley.

'We saw it a couple of times, in the game against Reading when we looked dangerous, but we weren't in that position again.

'Lee Bowyer and Matthew Etherington have also been out for a long time, and our leading goalscorers from midfield.

'I know when I do get them all in an XI that we are a quick, offensive side and if we get everyone fit we are in a position to push on. We have a squad that is strong enough.'

West Ham tackle Aston Villa tomorrow knowing they must match Tottenham's result in their game against Manchester City to secure a 10th-place finish.

The Hammers have been rooted in mid-table since the autumn but the gap has closed after a stuttering end to the season, when Curbishley has been forced to bring in youngsters to fill gaps caused by injury.

Anton Ferdinand could return tomorrow after a month out with a hamstring problem but it is likely that right-back Lucas Neill and Under-19 international James Tomkins will continue as the makeshift centre-back partnership.

'We have had our worst run of the season at the end. We have been in this position for a long while and if Tottenham get a result we have got to get a result,' said Curbishley

'If we get it, we finish in the top half. I think 10th would be a good finish because of the injuries we have had. No other club of our size could have done any better in our predicament.'