Aston Villa 1 West Ham United 0: Ashton's dream of national service goes awry again

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The Independent Football

Next time Dean Ashton is called up for England – and let's hope it is soon – he could be forgiven a shudder of dread. Having been named on Friday in the squad for the forthcoming European Championship qualifying matches against Estonia on Saturday and Russia four days later, Ashton now looks certain to miss out after finishing this match walking wounded with a knee injury.

The former Crewe and Norwich forward had just got back into his powerful stride for West Ham having spent the best part of last season recovering from the broken ankle he suffered 14 months ago while training for England's first match under Steve McClaren, against Greece. That England debut has been postponed once again.

McClaren was present at Villa Park to witness Ashton's sad decline from rumbustious line-leader to a crock obliged to continue hobbling after his side had already employed all three substitutes.

There was little of comfort for the England manager either in the post-match assessment by the West Ham manager, Alan Curbishley.

"Dean has hurt his medial knee ligament," said Curbishley, who has begun to take on the lugubrious expression of last season as West Ham's bright start has succumbed to injuries to a succession of influential players including Kieron Dyer, Scott Parker and Craig Bellamy, who is recovering from a hernia operation similar to the one undergone by Michael Owen.

"You could see he was labouring and couldn't really run about. I would think he is very doubtful for England. He couldn't really run near the end so I imagine that is it for him. He swung his leg to clear the ball and has caught his boot on somebody and tweaked his medial knee ligament.

"It's a big blow for England but it's also a big blow for us as we have injuries aplenty up front.

"It all depends how badly he has hurt his ligaments. We will have to wait and see but I would say things are looking a bit tight for the next two weeks.

"You feel sorry for the lad because he has had his fair share of bad luck and has worked ever so hard to get himself fit and playing."

Curbishley's counterpart Martin O'Neill gave a performance of customary anguished passion on the touchline as he saw his side put aside the traumatic circumstances of last Monday's game at Tottenham, where they let a 4-1 lead slip to draw 4-4.

Inspired by the left winger Ashley Young – one of McClaren's squad who managed to finish this game in one piece – Villa scored what turned out to be the decisive goal through a Craig Gardner free-kick in the 24th minute after Danny Gabbidon had been adjudged to have felled Gabriel Agbonlahor on the edge of the box.

Curbishley remained convinced it had not been a foul – but then he won't be expecting any luck at the moment. The two-week break before West Ham's next match, against Sunderland, is entirely welcome as far as he is concerned.

Goal: Gardner (24) 1-0.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Carson; Mellberg, Laursen, Knight, Bouma; Gardner (Petrov, 78), Reo-Coker, Barry, Young; Agbonlahor, Moore (Maloney, 67). Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Davies, Osbourne.

West Ham United (4-4-2): Green; Neill, Gabbidon, Upson, McCartney; Ljungberg, Bowyer, Mullins (Noble, 80), Etherington (Boa-Morte, 80); Ashton, Camara (Cole,36). Substitutes not used: Wright (gk), Collins.

Referee: Steve Tanner (Somerset)

Booked: Aston Villa Knight, Reo-Coker, Mellberg; West Ham United Camara, McCartney

Man of the match: Young.

Attendance: 40,842.