Out in the cold!

WEST HAM may not have taken a slow boat to China over the weekend, but whether by sea or air, the result was the same - Dean Ashton was not with them, writes DAVE EVANS. Some would say that he is merely continuing with his fitness rehabilitation, just as

WEST HAM may not have taken a slow boat to China over the weekend, but whether by sea or air, the result was the same - Dean Ashton was not with them, writes DAVE EVANS.

Some would say that he is merely continuing with his fitness rehabilitation, just as Terry Dixon and Valon Behrami are back at Chadwell Heath.

Others though will point to his significant absence from the recent 10-day trip to Austria, where despite his injury, Behrami, as well as the struggling Scott Parker, were both there as part of a team-bonding exercise.

Ashton has been on the verge of fitness for the last couple of months. He attended the Liverpool home game, looking lean and fit in his West Ham tracksuit, but since then he has been conspicuous by his absence.

And now at least three Premier League clubs are queuing up for the services of the England striker, who is still just 25-years-old.

The likes of Fulham, Hull City and Stoke City don't see a particularly tempting triumvirate for Ashton to consider - though Fulham are in the Europa League this season - but it seems that West Ham boss Gianfranco Zola is already planning for life without the big man.

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Ashton has never played under the current boss. His last game in claret and blue was in the 3-2 defeat at West Brom last September - the day that the little Italian arrived at the club.

Two days later he injured his ankle in training and the rest is history, just as Ashton's West Ham career seems to be.

The centre forward arrived at Upton Park in a blaze of glory when Alan Pardew signed him for a then club record �7.5million deal in January 2006.

His goals helped the Hammers to ninth place in the Premier League, into Europe and into the FA Cup Final, where he scored West Ham's second goal in their heartbreaking defeat.

Injury had already reared its ugly head before that Millennium Stadium showdown however, with Ashton only 70 per cent fit for the final, but his fragility really hit home at the beginning of the next season when an injury, training with England, ruled him out for the whole campaign.

He returned the following season to top score with 11 goals for the Hammers and even made his England debut against Trinidad in the summer of 2008, but his injury in September means he has made just 56 appearances for West Ham in three-and-a-half years, though scoring a healthy 19 goals.

Ashton's match fitness, even when he was available for selection, was always a matter of debate, but his undoubted finishing skills never were - he was simply international class.

He showed it again at the beginning of last season. Two goals in the opening 10 minutes of the new campaign against Blackburn Rovers at Upton Park, set him on his way, but they were to be his only strikes of another frustrating campaign.

Zola's teams are about pace up front, about hitting teams on the break, and it seems that Ashton just doesn't fit the bill.

It would be a great shame to see a fit Ashton knocking in the goals for one of West Ham's rivals however, and if no teams are prepared to take the gamble on him at around �5million, then he still could be an asset for the club in the future.

One asset that Zola and West Ham are desperate to cling on to is England centre half Matthew Upson, who has been linked with a move away once again this week.

The 30-year-old defender, who has 14 international caps to his name, is a target for Harry Redknapp at Spurs as well as for moneybags Manchester City.

Having lost out on John Terry over the weekend, and having had a big for Joleon Lescott turned down by Everton, it seems they are now turning their attention to the West Ham centre back, who was in stunning form last season.

A bid of around �12million has been mooted, but West Ham are not under pressure to accept it, unless the player himself asks to leave.

Towards the end of last season, Upson went on record to talk about his desire to play European football, but as neither City or Spurs are in that position, it does not seem logical that the player would consider a move to either.

With Lucas Neill destined not to return, Upson is also likely to be offered the captaincy of the club, and that too may sway him towards staying.

One word of warning however, should City turn their attention to Kolo Toure and Champions League side Arsenal then make an inquiry for Upson, it may be a very different story.

There are just two-and-a-half weeks to go until the start of the season and just over four weeks to the end of the transfer window, and yet little seems to have been resolved at Upton Park.

Strikers are the top priority at the moment, so it would seem a little premature to be selling off one of your prize assets, even if he is still injured!

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