Curbishley hands Ashton City incentive

West Ham United manager Alan Curbishley has insisted there are no problems in his relationship with Dean Ashton and hinted the striker could be recalled for Saturday's FA Cup clash with Manchester City. Ashton has returned to fitness after a year on the sidelines but has been unable to break into the Hammers' starting line-up.

Despite having scored four Premier League goals, the 24-year-old has started just eight league games and has been linked with a move away from Upton Park this month. But Curbishley is adamant that there is nothing in claims that Ashton could leave and has reiterated that the former Norwich player's sporadic appearances are due to a combination of his long spell out injured and team tactics.

Curbishley said: "I believe we're managing him sensibly. It's been a tactical decision more than anything else recently. For the past few matches we've played 4-5-1 and Carlton Cole, at this stage, is more suited to that role than Dean.

"I spoke to him before the Manchester United match and I think he understood. After that result it was no surprise we stuck with the same system against Arsenal, although it wasn't as successful because we conceded an early goal.

"He suffered a bad injury and we have to manage his fitness carefully. I believe we're doing that. Dean had an uninterrupted run of games when he came back until he injured his knee. Since he's returned, he's been okay again with no other problems.

"We've had a lot of games in a short space of time and I didn't want to overload him. He should be nice and fresh now as we go into Saturday's FA Cup tie against Manchester City. I've no problem with Dean and he remains an important part of our plans."

Elano threat
Curbishley could also have Lee Bowyer and Matthew Etherington in contention for the game at Upton Park, where City picked up a 2-0 victory in Sven-Goran Eriksson's first game in charge in August. Brazilian playmaker Elano made his debut for City that day and Eriksson believes the 26-year-old is close to rediscovering his swagger after a dip in form.

Elano scored in Wednesday's 2-0 win at Newcastle United and Eriksson insists that regular action, and not resting the player, has been the answer to his resurgence. "Elano hasn't been the real Elano since October when he came back from international football," said the Swedish gaffer.

"Then he got injured and was away for almost two weeks and he never really recovered well physically. Now he's on the right path again and after a couple more games you will see the real one again. I'm sure about that."

"It's very difficult to rest a player like him because when he gets the ball he has something special. I've spoken to him about how to get him right again and we agreed to keep playing him and it will come."