Dean Ashton completed a magical return from injury…but admitted he will still have to play through the pain barrier for another year.
The West Ham hit-man scored his first goal since the 2006 FA Cup final defeat by Liverpool after missing the whole of last season with a broken ankle.
It has been a long and winding road back for Ashton as he suffered complication after complication in his rehabilitation from an injury he suffered in training while on England duty last August.
He needed two operations to repair his ankle – and the key to keeping his spirits high during a season of gloom for Hammers last term was “a little bit of magic.”
West Ham boss Alan Curbishley brought in Italian sports psychologist Roberto Forzoni to give his players a lift last season, and Forzoni, a member of the Magic Circle, entertained the squad with tricks from his repertoire. “He is a good man to have around the place,” said Ashton.
“I know him from when I played with England under 17s. I have always liked the way he does things. He has been around a long time and he knows his stuff.”
West Ham defender James Collins added: “We were a bit down but he gave us a few motivational speeches and also a few magic tricks.
“He is always entertaining the boys and he has been superb for us. We don’t have any idea how he does them.”
Forzoni’s magic and motivational skills have certainly put a spring back into Ashton’s step even if he is still some way off being fully fit again. He says it will be another six months at least before his ankle is painfree.
But he is still hoping to regain his England place, especially after seeing Steve McClaren bring back a big target man in Emile Heskey – ironically now sidelined – for the Euro 2008 double header with Israel and Russia.
“Hats off to Emile. He did really well and deserves his place in the team. But I want to fight for that place,” added Ashton.
West Ham’s finishing was the difference between the two teams. Boro striker Jeremie Aliadiere hit a post when he should have scored before his replacement, Tuncay Sanli, missed a hat-trick of chances.
In contrast, West Ham never looked back after Lee Bowyer opened the scoring 21 seconds after the re-start before Luke Young’s own goal and Ashton’s 62nd-minute clincher completed the rout.
Middlesbrough boss Gareth Southgate refused to blame Tuncay even though he revealed the Turkish striker apologised to his team-mates after the game.
Southgate said: “That is as well as he’s played. He looked lively but couldn’t take his chances. He came into the dressing-room afterwards and apologised to everyone, although I didn’t think he needed to do that.”