West Ham United 3 Middlesbrough 0: Ashton brings house down as Hammers hit top form

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The Independent Football

West Ham produced a first home win for their supporters that had at one point seemed highly improbable but which by the end was emphatic. Three goals inside 16 second-half minutes left a hitherto impressive Middlesbrough battered and bewildered, but sent Hammers fans home with renewed optimism.

Despite losing their top scorer Craig Bellamy to an early groin injury – the curse of West Ham's new signings continues – Alan Curbishley's side emerged from the break with fire in their bellies. Lee Bowyer's excellent volley 23 seconds after the restart, followed by an own goal by Luke Young and a hugely popular Dean Ashton strike, secured a second successive 3-0 win.

Ashton had been waiting since the 2006 FA Cup final against Liverpool to add to his West Ham tally, having missed a year with a broken ankle. When it arrived after 62 minutes, it brought the house down. Curbishley had played his striker in two reserves games since the 3-0 win at Reading and acknowledged the importance of those outings. "He looked a lot sharper today," said the manager. "The goal will have given him confidence and he can only get stronger from here."

Ashton thought he had ended that drought after 14 minutes with a good finish from Bellamy's pass, but an offside flag was raised. Jérémie Aliadière should have put Boro ahead five minutes later when Mido, leading the line well , sent him clear with a subtle flick of his right boot. Alas the former Arsenal striker directed his shot against the post.

Mido was furious with his young team-mate and it was not the end of Aliadière's misfortune. Soon he miscued horribly again from close-range after Mido and Fabio Rochemback had combined well and after half an hour he pulled up with a hamstring injury, to be replaced with Turkish international Tuncay.

There was little sign of what was to come as Robert Green was forced to save low from George Boateng and also divert a cross from Tuncay that would have presented Stewart Downing with an open goal.

Mark Noble blocked Julio Arca's follow-up shot. But how misleading that proved to be, for West Ham were ahead before the half-time jellied eels had been finished. Hayden Mullins found Carlton Cole, on for Bellamy, just outside the area, and he played in Bowyer who hit an exquisite first-time volley, despite the close attentions of Jonathan Woodgate.

Four minutes later West Ham doubled their advantage. This time Cole, now brimming with confidence after an uneasy start, skipped past one challenge before whipping in a devilish cross which Young diverted past Mark Schwarzer. Boro were as startled.

Tuncay beat West Ham's offside trap three times when a flag may have spared him embarrassment. First he lobbed the ball on to the bar, then Green saved at his feet. Tuncay sent the third effort hopelessly wide. "He apologised for those misses afterwards," said his manager Gareth Southgate. "But you can't pin the blame on him. We should have been in contention by that stage anyway. But he has adapted well to English football and always looked a threat."

Ashton scored just after the hour. The striker beat Andrew Taylor to the ball to supply a close-range finish to Matthew Etherington's cross. There could have been more, Cole missing a sitter, but then that would have been greedy. "I said to Gareth it is all about taking chances," said Curbishley. "We took ours, they didn't." Enough said.

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