Dean Ashton is a throwback to a time, in the Fifties, when an English centre forward made up for a perceived lack of sophistication with an emphasis on attributes such as strength, power and hard running. That is not to say that the West Ham United striker lacks sophistication, it is just that he makes virtues of what one might deem to be a simplistic approach.
And how significant it proved, for it was his two goals that set West Ham on their way to a victory against Wigan Athletic, whose own old-style English centre forward, Emile Heskey, was there to show that such players are enjoying a renaissance.
"I've never seen a finisher who strikes the ball as hard as Ashton does," Alan Curbishley, the West Ham manager, said. "If you want the ball bouncing around or in the penalty area, you want it to bounce to Ashton because he'll hit it hard and on target." That was evident in the third minute when, collecting a cross by Julien Faubert, Ashton turned Paul Scharner and scored with a powerful shot from 12 yards out. The encore, six minutes later, came when Ashton scored from close range after Calum Davenport, taking advantage of wretched Wigan defending, flicked the ball towards the far post.
"We all know about Ashton's ability," Steve Bruce, the Wigan manager, said. "You have to take your hat off to him. But the second goal was poor – the sort of mistake we pride ourselves on avoiding."
It needed a rousing half-time team talk by Bruce – "I should have given the half-time talk before the kick-off" – to change the complexion of the match and Wigan pulled a goal back within two minutes of the restart through Amr Zaki.
Zaki, the Egypt international striker, the antithesis of the old-style English centre forward, finished superlatively after Heskey flicked on a throw by Maynor Figueroa. Had Zaki possessed greater composure with two simpler opportunities, Wigan would have won. "In Zaki, we've unearthed a diamond," Bruce said.
Indeed, diamonds were everywhere. Wilson Palacios, the Wigan midfield player from Honduras, was the most dazzling of all, dominating play in the second half. West Ham hung on, partly thanks to Matthew Upson's fortitude in defence, but mainly due to Zaki's profligacy.
Ashton would have swallowed up those chances, but he was off the pitch before the end – injured, of course. Instead, it was Heskey who was called into the England squad.
Goals: Ashton (3) 1-0; Ashton (9) 2-0; Zaki (47) 2-1.
West Ham United (4-4-2): Green; Behrami, Davenport, Upson, Neill; Faubert (Boa Morte, 86), Parker (Mullins, 72), Noble, Etherington; Ashton (Sears, 73), Cole. Substitutes not used: Lastuvka (gk), Reid, Bowyer, Spence.
Wigan Athletic (4-4-1-1): Kirkland; Melchiot (De Ridder 83), Scharner (Koumas 83), Boyce, Figueroa; Valencia, Cattermole (Sibierski 85), Palacios, Kapo; Zaki; Heskey. Substitutes not used: Pollitt (gk), Kilbane, Brown, Bramble.
Referee: S Bennett (Kent).
Booked: West Ham Parker, Davenport; Wigan Palacios.
Man of the match: Ashton.Reuse content