Dean's Euro vision

WEST HAM striker Dean Ashton finally bowed to the inevitable this week and ruled himself out for the rest of the season, WRITES DAVE EVANS. But the big centre forward is aiming for a return during the summer pre-season campaign and he is hungry for the lu

WEST HAM striker Dean Ashton finally bowed to the inevitable this week and ruled himself out for the rest of the season, WRITES DAVE EVANS.

But the big centre forward is aiming for a return during the summer pre-season campaign and he is hungry for the lure of European football to spur him on.

The 25-year-old underwent another operation on the ankle that has ruled him out since September, and though it was described as 'very successful', this season's run-in will still come too soon for his return.

"I think realistically pre-season is my target," confirmed Ashton this week.


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"I've just had an operation and the surgeons are pleased, but obviously it's a set-back I didn't really want."

It is yet another blow for Ashton, who signed from Norwich City in a then club record �7.25million deal back in January 2006.

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In the three years since he has made just 56 appearances, scoring 19 goals, as well as making his debut for England in Trinidad last summer.

This season he has scored two goals in five appearances, though he is certainly impressed by what the team has done in his absence.

"With the position we're in at the moment, I don't see why we can't strive for Europe," he insisted.

"The team has been doing really well. Slowly, but surely, the manager and Steve Clarke have really put their mark on the side.

"It looks like a really good team to be playing in and the boys are doing really well."

West Ham are currently eighth in the Premier League, but if they can overhaul seventh-placed Wigan Athletic and then Manchester United beat Spurs in the Carling Cup Final, it could open the door for an extra place in Europe.

The Hammers are also still in the FA Cup, another possible route into European competition.

"At the moment we've done well to get away from the relegation places and cement ourselves in mid-table, but now the players can strive to do even better," said Ashton.

There was better news on the injury front for Carlton Cole on Monday, as a scan on his injured ankle confirmed a sprain rather than something more serious.

He will miss the Bolton game and next Wednesday's FA Cup replay, but he will look to return for the Sunday lunchtime home clash with Manchester City on March 1.

For Ashton though, the road back is a lot longer.

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