Ashton the £8m striker

RICK WAGHORN The lull before the final storm? Or has Norwich's latest reported £8 million asking price for star striker Dean Ashton finally ended West Ham United's chase of the 22-year-old?


The lull before the final storm? Or has Norwich's latest reported £8 million asking price for star striker Dean Ashton finally ended West Ham United's chase of the 22-year-old?

With high-placed City sources insisting this morning that there was nothing new to report on either the Ashton or Robert Green to Portsmouth front, the feeling remained that the England Under-21 striker's future was “delicately poised” - the anonymous, two-word phrase published in The Independent newspaper yesterday as they dug around Upton Park for a hint on which way the great Ashton chase was going.

With the Canaries steadfastly refusing to elaborate on each and every individual offer, the feeling remains that having opened their bidding at around the £5.5 million mark for Ashton Hammers' boss Alan Pardew has now found himself looking squarely down the barrel of a £7 million 'plus' gun.

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With his chase for the Red Star Belgrade's Nikola Zigic drawing a big, fat blank with the 6ft 5in striker now reported to be intent on staying in Belgrade until after this summer World Cup, Pardew's alternatives appear to be limited to either sorting out the 'plus' bit of the £7 million with Norwich or switching his attentions to either prising Habib Bamogo out of Marseilles on loan until the end of the season or joining the queue for Porto's Benni McCarthy.

However, given Pardew's previous record in the transfer market and his tendency to buy British in the likes of the Cardiff pairing of Danny Gabbidon and James Collins plus king-pin midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker, Ashton clearly looks to be his No1 target.

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Whether, as 'The Sun' today suggests the Canaries will hold their nerve and refuse to budge until the various add-ons and sell-on clauses take the deal to an eye-watering £8 million is the big question - as is whether the likes of cash-rich Wigan Athletic or long-time admirers Manchester City will stage a dramatic, eleventh hour raid for Ashton now they know at what point West Ham will duck out.

Quite where Ashton's own head lies in the midst of all this is for Worthington to decide as he ponders his likely line-up for Saturday's potentially crucial home clash with Watford. He may yet have little choice but to rest Ashton for one of the key games of the season if his slight hamstring strain persists. “Touch and go,” was the manager's latest verdict.

In the meantime, down in deepest Wales it was a similar tale of smokes and mirrors with regard to Ashton's potential replacement - Cardiff City's 19-year-old hot-shot Cameron Jerome.

With Sheffield United refusing to go anywhere near the Bluebirds' reported £3.5 million price tag, it was claimed that Norwich are left as the only show in town with the Norfolk club willing to put £2 million down with a further £1.5 million to follow on the basis of games played, promotion to the Premiership and future international honours for a player who has just broken into the England Under-21 set-up.

However, with club directors Delia Smith, Michael Wynn Jones and Michael Foulger being obliged to extend their loan facilities to the club in order to fund Carl Robinson's arrival at Carrow Road, it would appear that Jerome can only happen on the back of an Ashton exit and Pardew blinking first, taking a very deep breath and committing the Hammers to the 'plus' bit of Norwich's £7 million plus asking price.

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