McClaren confirms Ashton call-up
Steve McClaren has confirmed that West Ham striker Dean Ashton will be recalled to the England squad for the crucial UEFA EURO 2008 qualifiers against Estonia and Russia later this month.
Three goals in his last four games proved enough to prompt McClaren into an unguarded admission that the 23-year-old would be in the squad he names on Friday.
"He has forced his way in," McClaren said, revealing that he had been keeping tabs on Ashton's comeback from a serious ankle injury since the powerful striker returned to action in the summer.
Ashton had looked set to break into the England set-up in the wake of last year's World Cup only to see his dreams crushed by the injury he suffered in training for England's first match under McClaren.
Fourteen months and two operations later, Ashton is now in pole position to start against Estonia on 13 October at Wembley, although it remains to be seen if he is alongside Wayne Rooney or Michael Owen.
"It was very disappointing about the injury Dean had at the start of last season with England," McClaren said. "I have been watching him from pre-season onwards and he certainly comes into consideration."
Owen has demonstrated how important he is to England by scoring four goals in the last three qualifiers and McClaren's decision to re-unite him with Emile Heskey was instrumental in England's convincing wins over Israel and Russia last month.
Heskey however has since broken a metatarsal bone and is ruled out of the next two matches.
That has catapulted Ashton into consideration with McClaren bound to be influenced by the way Heskey's physical presence unsettled the Israeli and Russian defences last month.
McClaren is confident that his side can get through the Estonia and Russia matches even if they have to do without Owen and captain John Terry.
Terry fractured his cheekbone at the weekend while Owen is recovering from surgery on a groin injury, but McClaren plans to name both of them in the squad he will name on Friday.
"We will have to see what the outcome of the operations are and take it day-by-day," he said. "They are both very confident in coming back and playing very quickly. But, as we all know with injuries and rehabilitation, things can go wrong."
The Estonia match could be Owen's comeback appearance but Terry was considering a return to duty in Chelsea's UEFA Champions League match in Valencia on Wednesday.
If Owen is fit, he could be paired with Ashton in attack with Rooney shunted in to a wide role on the left at the expense of Joe Cole.
Rooney missed England's last two games through injury and his position in the side has been put in doubt following the convincing 3-0 wins over Israel and Russia.
They were achieved with Owen partnered by Emile Heskey but the big Wigan forward has since broken a metatarsal bone and will not be available.
McClaren insisted no risks would be taken with the fitness of Terry and Owen.
"Of course they have to be fit and they have to be fit enough to contribute to us winning," he said. "But we are playing for England and these are big games - games these players, I know, really want to play in."
Fears Owen would require a hernia operation have proved unfounded and his consultant, German doctor Ulrike Muschaweck, has predicted that he will be fully recovered from the surgery she performed on the striker last week by the time of the England match.