Ashton looking forward to return

Former Norwich City striker Dean Ashton hopes to receive a warm welcome from the Canaries faithful when he returns with West Ham tomorrow for a pre-season friendly.

Former Norwich City striker Dean Ashton hopes to receive a warm welcome from the Canaries faithful when he returns with West Ham tomorrow for a pre-season friendly.

The 23-year-old hopes to make a good impression on the Norwich fans as he never got the chance to say goodbye to them before his £7.25m move to Upton Park in January 2006.

Ashton, who missed the majority of last season due to an ankle injury sustained on international duty, insisted that City will always hold a place in his heart.

“I'll always be very grateful to Norwich for giving me my chance in the Premiership to show what I can do,” he said. “I hope I'll get a good reception as I really enjoyed my time down there and they are great fans to play in front of.

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“I've always said that I was very sad to leave and I wouldn't have left but for the pull of the Premiership and playing at this level.

It'll be great to go back and see some old faces.”

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Ashton was bought by Nigel Worthington for £3m in the January 2005 transfer window but could not save the Canaries from relegation despite a number of impressive performances.

He was rewarded with a new contract in the summer but by the following transfer window several clubs, including Manchester City and West Ham, had shown an interest in the former Crewe forward.

However, when he was left out of an FA Cup match against the Hammers to avoid him being cup-tied, the writing was on the wall and he duly completed a £7m switch to Upton Park days later.

It is a state of affairs City fans have had to get used following the high-profile departures of Robert Earnshaw and Dickson Etuhu but Ashton believes there is nothing Championship clubs can do to hold on to their stars when the Premiership comes calling.“That's just the reality of it unfortunately,” he said. “But it's sad for me to watch when their best players get sold and I can understand where Darren Huckerby was coming from when he said what he said.

“But that's the reality of it. But Peter Grant is there and hopefully he will have a bit of money to spend to bring some more players in and I'm sure that Norwich will come good.”

Ashton worked with Grant when the City boss was the assistant manager to Alan Pardew at Upton Park and the England Under-21 international believes City will be able to turn it around.

“I really liked him and he was a great coach. He was willing to work hard on the training pitch with all of us. From what I've heard he's giving it everything at Norwich.”

Tomorrow will be the first time Ashton has been back to Carrow Road as a player since his exit, but he revealed that he still keeps in touch with several of the first team squad and regards Norwich as his “second team”.

“I got back a couple of times last season and watched how they got on. I always like to go back and have a look to see how they're getting on.

“I still speak to a few of them. I speak to Jason Shackell and Darren Huckerby quite a lot as I like to see how they're getting on and consider Norwich my second team.”

Ashton has endured a frustrating year on the sidelines after breaking his ankle before he was all set to make his debut for England against Greece in Steve McClaren's first match as head coach.

Ashton can't wait for the new season to start prove to Hammers boss Alan Curbishley that he is worthy of a place in the starting line-up.

“It's been a tough year and there's new players that have come here and I've got to prove that I'm worthy of a starting place. But before that I just want to keep healthy, keep fit, really enjoy being back playing football. It's been a hard, hard year.”

And what about getting that first England cap that must be only a matter of time away?

“That's something to strive for - that's one of my goals,” he said. “To get so close, you know it's given me the hunger to get there again.”

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