West Ham Utd 2 Wigan Athletic 1: Ashton displays true talents
The timing could hardly have been better for Dean Ashton. With Fabio Capello, the England head coach, watching from the stand and enthusiasm rife among West Ham United supporters, Ashton provided evidence to suggest that the old-style English centre-forward is alive and well and ready to fulfil exaggerated expectations at Upton Park.
Until Ashton limped off in the 72nd minute, he was the significant figure of a bright match. His goals gave West Ham victory and went a small way towards ending the debate about whether he has the attributes necessary for a club of West Ham's ambition. Goalscoring is not his problem; avoiding injury clearly is.
Indeed, when Capello came here to watch West Ham play Birmingham last February, Ashton looked anything but a striker with international credentials. Lacking confidence and pace, he cut an isolated and disillusioned figure. It was painful to watch.
Six months on, the story could hardly be more different. Exuding style and panache, Ashton scored twice within the first 10 minutes to give West Ham what seemed to be a comfortable lead.
"Dean is definitely leaner," Alan Curbishley, the West Ham manager, said. "He has worked hard with his diet and trained hard, as he always does. At this stage, we think he suffered cramp but it's hard to say. "
The first goal, in the third minute, came when Ashton latched on to a cross by Julien Faubert, turned Paul Scharner in one movement, and struck a fierce shot from 12 yards into the top corner.
The second had rather less to commend it but said much about Ashton's ability to find space even inside the six-yard box. With Wigan struggling to clear, Calum Davenport turned the ball towards the far post to where Ashton, inexplicably unmarked, was able to score from close range.
Steve Bruce, the Wigan manager, was less than impressed. "We pride ourselves on our ability to give nothing away. But in the end, we were the better team and I think even the West Ham fans will go away and admit we deserved something."
Wigan had their old-style English centre-forward in the shape of Emile Heskey but he did not emerge as a threat until the second half, by which time Wigan had pulled a goal back and, with Wilson Palacios impressive in midfield, threatened to change the complexion of the match. Heskey, also hoping to impress Capello, having played under the previous three England head coaches, flicked on a long throw for Amr Zaki to volley home in the 47th minute. It marked an excellent debut for the Egypt international.
Wigan had chances to equalise, with Olivier Kapo, the former Juventus left-winger, twice testing Robert Green in the West Ham goal, but Ashton had done enough even if, typically, he did not finish the game.
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