Thursday, 12 February 2009

The Waking Nightmare

Dean Ashton's injury nightmare has been prolonged after West Ham confirmed he has had yet another "very successful" operation on his ankle this week. The England striker has been sidelined since September with his current problem and the Hammers had hoped that following previous surgery he would now be back in action. But Ashton has been forced to go under the knife again and the club have yet to put a date on his return.

Ashton is reported to be recovering well after the surgery and remains in good spirits. World renowned specialist Niek van Dijk flew to London to work with the highly regarded James Calder. Van Dijk has previously operated on Cristiano Ronaldo, Michael Ballack and Robin van Persie. The England striker was pleased to get the procedure out of the way and is already focused on getting back on track with his rehab, which had been progressing well. "It was disappointing to have another operation. But it had to be done and was only a minor thing, a small problem that had to be dealt with and I am glad it is all done now," he said. "I was also very pleased to have the two of the best ankle specialists in the room at the same time when I had the operation done. The feedback I have had from everyone has been great, so that is very good for me."

The 25-year-old will be reassessed later this month before flying to Amsterdam to meet Professor Van Dijk for further examination in around four weeks. That could give a clearer indication of when he might be able to return to action. James Calder said: "This type of procedure has been performed on a lot of top European sports professionals and it has proven very successful. It was a complicated injury but we are confident that Dean will recover well. The mental approach is as important as the physical and Dean is very focused in that respect. He has the right attitude to rehabilitation and is as strong in mind as he is in body. He deserves every success and I hope he is back playing for West Ham soon."

Ashton is yet to play for Hammers boss Gianfranco Zola; his last appearance, in the 3-2 defeat by West Bromwich Albion on 13 September, was two days before the Sardinian took charge. He is hopeful he is now on the road to recovery. "When you are out this long they wonder what is wrong especially as I started the season OK," he said. "But as any player will tell you, this is what it can be like with any injury you pick up. The important thing is I am working hard and looking to be firing on all cylinders when I come back. Another good thing is that I have not lost any of the fitness I had gained before the operation, so I can get back to everything again soon and continue to work hard."

On to the international round-up where Carlton Cole made his England debut as a late substitute while Robert Green and Matthew Upson both played the whole of the second half for England in the 2-0 defeat by Spain. Cole came on in the 75th minute and looked lively during his late run-out, showing some nice early touches to bring others into play. The striker then so nearly marked his first appearance with a goal two minutes from the end when he picked up David Beckham's through-ball and rounded Pepe Reina, only for Carlos Marchena to clear his goalbound effort off the line.

Green and Upson joined the fray at half-time with the visitors already a goal down from David Villa's superb 36th-minute opener. Green looked assured on his second appearance for his country and could do nothing about young substitute Fernando Llorente's header with eight minutes to go. The West Ham No1 made several well-taken catches and kicked well throughout. Upson played confidently alongside captain John Terry in central defence on his 13th cap for the Three Lions. The 29-year-old did not allow the Spanish forwards any space and zipped several smart passes forward.

The game was the first time three West Ham United players have been on the pitch at the same time for England in seven years. The last occasion saw David James, Trevor Sinclair and Joe Cole line up in a 1-1 draw with Portugal at Villa Park on 7 September 2002.

Elsewhere, Radoslav Kovac took another vital step towards first team fitness by playing an encouraging 90 minutes for the Czech Republic as they secured a goalless draw in Casablanca on Wednesday night. New recruit Kovac played in a holding midfield role and more than played his part in a tricky encounter that saw the African nation dominate the play. Morocco went close four times in the second half after a quiet first 45 minutes but the fact the West Ham United No14 got his first full competitive run-out since 27 November will be a big boost to the club ahead of the weekend's FA Cup tie with Middlesbrough.

Having played at the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008, Kovac has every chance of playing for his country again at next summer's global finals in South Africa. The 29-year-old, on loan from Spartak Moscow with a view to a permanent transfer in the summer, has helped the Czechs to third place in qualifying Group 3, two points behind leaders Slovakia ahead of the trip to Slovenia on 28 March. He has been capped 29 times with two goals.

Jack Collison continued his excellent season with a fourth cap for Wales last night as they went down 1-0 to Poland in a friendly played in Portugal. The West Ham United midfielder has established himself as a first-team regular for the club under Gianfranco Zola and looks to have done the same for John Toshack's Welsh side. Collison played 45 minutes in Vila Real before making way for Arsenal starlet Aaron Ramsey in a match that saw Roger Guerreiro hit a late winner for the Poles. The 20-year-old Collison was the only Hammer on view with James Collins remaining at Chadwell Heath for treatment - although he should be OK for the weekend - while Danny Gabbidon is STILL working his way back to fitness after a long-term abdominal injury.

In the same game Craig Bellamy was involved in an angry touchline confrontation with a fan. The ex-United forward, who had passed a fitness test on his right knee, was the subject of some abuse while doing a television interview and reacted by gesturing at a spectator before being led away. "These things happen, I don’t want to make any fuss about it," Bellamy said. "Maybe it was because of a few drinks. It always seems to be me, though. I have shown my commitment to Wales by turning up for these sorts of games, but it is me that always seems to get picked on for stick. I’m passionate about my country, maybe too passionate at times."

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