McClaren's first call is for Ashton

Hammers striker rewarded as new England coach lays down a powerful marker
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The Independent Football

Many scoffed at the perceived extravagance of a club record £7m fee which West Ham paid to inveigle Dean Ashton away from Norwich City in January. If his goals and performances for Alan Pardew's men swiftly disproved that theory, what value do you place on the striker now as new England coach Steve McClaren prepares to include him in his first squad on Friday?

The 22-year-old, who was nurtured by Dario Gradi at Crewe, where he played until moving to Norwich in 2004 for a club record £3m, has performed at every other level for England, up to and including Under-21, and his robust physique, pace and first touch, allied to a predatory instinct, have earned the approval of McClaren.

England's first game of the post-Sven Goran Eriksson era, a friendly against Greece, at Old Trafford on Wednesday week, will necessarily involve forwards who were not involved in the World Cup. Of the quartet who travelled to Germany, Wayne Rooney will be suspended for England's first two competitive games, the World Cup qualifiers against Macedonia and Andorra, as a result of his dismissal against Portugal and hence looks unlikely to participate in the preceding friendly; Michael Owen is injured and will be sidelined for the foreseeable future; and Theo Walcott is likely to be returned to the Under-21s until he has Premiership experience. Which leaves Peter Crouch, who was always regarded as a player who would offer a surprise element from the bench.

It offers an opportunity for a number of strikers overlooked by Eriksson. They include: Ashton, the Everton pair, Andy Johnson and James Beattie, and Tottenham's Jermain Defoe, who was on stand-by for Germany, only to be rejected by the Swede, who was criticised for his lack of striking options. Now it's stand-by for lift-off to a starting place for a player whose attitude impressed McClaren during the prelude to the World Cup.

Johnson represented England against Holland in a friendly last year, although bizarrely the former Crystal Palace man was played out of position on the right flank. He also played in the tour to the United States. Beattie has not featured in an international side since 2004.

Another player who has not worn an England shirt since that year, and who could also benefit from the regime change is Scott Parker, who was watched by McClaren yesterday in Newcastle's match against Villarreal. Parker, 25, who has succeeded Alan Shearer as captain of Newcastle, has not played since briefly appearing in a friendly against Sweden. He was on the stand-by list for Euro 2004, but hasn't been sighted since.

McClaren is taking in several pre-season friendlies as he attempts to demonstrate that there are no preconceptions when it comes to the new era. They have included Manchester United's game against Porto on Friday in Amsterdam, in which Rooney and Paul Scholes were dismissed. Chelsea will also come under scrutiny this week, as will Spurs.

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