Friday, 28 September 2007

New Challenges

Sir Trevor Brooking believes Dean Ashton is ready to solve England's striking problems for the crucial Euro qualifiers. Steve McClaren faces a major selection dilemma for the games against Estonia and Russia after Emile Heskey and Michael Owen were ruled out of the must-win clashes on October 13th and 17th. The FA's Director of Football Development has today warned the striker to make sure he is ready if England come calling.

West Ham’s uncapped striker, 23, missed all last season through injury after suffering a broken ankle on the eve of his first cap against Greece in August 2006. He has finally regained full fitness and many believe could be in the squad to face Estonia and Russia next month after netting three goals in three games. Brooking sees no reason why Ashton cannot reproduce the form which made him one of the hottest properties in the English game. "Dean has been out for over a year," he said. "We all know he has ability. He has just to work on that match fitness, do it consistently and get that sharpness back to get the spring and the confidence. You have to be sure Dean is fully fit and raring to go."

Hammers legend Brooking is convinced the injuries to Owen and Heskey could open the door for Ashton to gain his first full England cap. "There is going to be a lot of debate about who should play and who should not for England next time," he stated. "England manager Steve McClaren, though, is the one to say who should be in - and I am sure you will have about eight different strikers put forward. Probably last time, Emile was not high on many people’s suggested list, but Steve came up with him and showed a lot of courage. The disappointment of somebody means an opportunity for somebody else. Hopefully any player picked will respond if they are given the chance. Everyone is aware when you go into the England side you have to perform."

A West Ham player will less lofty immediate ambitions is Scott Parker. The midfielder enjoyed his first appearance for the Hammers at Upton Park on Wednesday night as the team progressed through to the fourth round of the Carling Cup with a 1-0 win over Plymouth. "I'm pleased to be back after being out a long time with my knee," he said. "It was nice to be involved and get a win; that was the most crucial thing. It was always going to be a tough, competitive match, playing against lower league opposition. You've got nothing to gain, as such. You're expected to win and they come and give everything they've got. It turned out that way and a late strike from Deano put us through, which was pleasing."

Speaking about his own progress since recovering from the knee injury he suffered during the Hammers' pre-season friendly against Lazio in Austria, Parker said: "I'm feeling alright. I'm probably still a little bit away from where I want to be but you only get that from playing games. You can train as much as you can but I think the main thing coming out of last night was coming through the game without any reaction to my knee. That was the most pleasing thing. Hopefully now I can push on a bit, gain a bit more confidence in my knee and the way I play and we'll go from there."

Parker remains hopeful of being involved in tomorrow's game against league leaders, Arsenal. "I haven't spoken to the manager yet," he admitted. "I think I'll probably be involved in one way or another, but I don't know whether I'll play or whether I'll be on the bench. I'll leave that decision to the manager. Obviously, Saturday's game comes quite quickly but it's down to the manager. Whenever you play Arsenal it's always a tough game and Saturday certainly won't be any different. They're on fire and it's going to be a tough but we're in good form ourselves and we'd like to put up a good show. Hopefully we'll get a result."

Freddie Ljungberg is another player looking forward to the visit of Arsenal. He faces the Gunners for the first time since quitting them to join West Ham - and believes his former side have recaptured some of the belief they had during his glorious nine years at the club. "When I had success with Arsenal they played with great belief and confidence - and you can see that with this team," said the 30-year-old, who hopes to start after fighting his way back from injury. "There was a great team spirit throughout the club and respect for the manager. They have some brilliant young players who play together and for each other. It will feel a little strange when I play against Arsenal but I'm with a new team now and I have a new challenge."

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