New boy Ashton aiming for England strike role

August 14, 2006

Dean Ashton aims to set down a marker for his long-term international future at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

The West Ham striker seems certain to complete a meteoric 18-month rise from the lower reaches of the Championship to full England honours by making his debut against European Champions Greece.

It was only in January last year Ashton turned out for Crewe for the final time before joining Norwich in a £3million deal.

Twelve months on and the Swindon-born star was bound for West Ham and a goal-scoring appearance in the FA Cup Final defeat to Liverpool.

Now Ashton is rubbing shoulders with England's glitterati as new coach Steve McClaren prepares for his first game in charge.

The 22-year-old is anxious to prove he is not just the old-style battering ram many pundits make him out to be and confidently believes he has the flexibility to forge a lengthy career at the highest level.

'I suppose I am an old-type centre-forward in that I am big and strong, I like to hold the ball up and bring other people into play,' said Ashton.

'But I also feel there is much more to my game than that.

'I have played numerous roles up front. I can play off the defender, I can hold the ball up, I can come short, I can head the ball, I can shoot from distance. There is a lot in my game and it is a case of working as hard as I can to bring it all out.'

Ashton certainly does not appear fazed by finding himself in such exalted company at a relatively early stage of his career.

Instead, the Swindon-born star is relishing the opportunity he has been presented and is fully focused on not adding his name to the infamous list of England one-cap wonders.

'It is every player's dream to be in this position, to be called up and have a chance to show what he can do,' he said.

'I want to enjoy the experience and take as much from it as I can. But I don't want this to only happen once. I am in the squad and now I want to stay in it.'

Given the speed with which he has charged up from the Championship, Ashton could be forgiven a regret over his delay in leaving Norwich.

Despite the Canaries' relegation in 2005, he opted to remain at Carrow Road for the first half of last season, only quitting once it became clear Norwich had no chance of bouncing straight back into the top flight.

It could be argued, with Theo Walcott making the flight to Germany, a full season at Premiership level would have seen Ashton nab a spot in Sven-Goran Eriksson's World Cup squad.

But, although Ashton admitted to watching all England's games, he claimed there was no element of what might have been in his thoughts at all.

'It is pointless to think like that,' he said.

'At the time I was happy at Norwich and genuinely wanted to try and help them come back up. I felt I owed them a lot for taking a gamble on me.'

However, there is no doubt Ashton's move to West Ham has brought a major improvement in his overall game.

Part of the development is due to a weight-loss programme Hammers boss Alan Pardew implemented when the striker arrived at Upton Park, the need for which is not quite as dramatic as it sounds.

'It wasn't that I was stuffing myself or anything like that,' he smiled.

'It was just a case of laying off the weights because Alan said he wanted me to bulk down.

'I used to go to the gym twice a week but I have cooled that down and it has made a difference to my size.

'I don't know how much weight I have lost but I am definitely lighter and I can feel a difference in terms of the way I feel physically.

'I feel fitter and sharper and have got through pre-season a lot better.

'Obviously, I really wanted to work on that aspect of my play because the modern game is so fast.'