Dean Ashton says West Ham’s 2007 great escape was his ‘darkest time’.. and can’t believe Hammers are back in Prem depths

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FOR West Ham, the celebrations at a rain-soaked Old Trafford on May 13, 2007 were ones of pure joy and relief.

Carlos Tevez had inspired the Hammers to a 1-0 win over Manchester United on the final day of the campaign to secure top flight safety – completing the unlikeliest of great escapes.

But for an injured Dean Ashton, watching from behind his sofa at home after a season-ending ankle injury back in August 2006, he can only describe it as a “dark time”.

Aston told SunSport “In fact, it was the darkest of times.

“I was at home that day. I had struggled to get to any of the games towards the end of the season. I was struggling mentally.

“I had another operation on my ankle and that took a lot out of me.

“It was absolutely horrendous to see the team struggling and not be able to help out or be involved.

“I watched that game from behind the sofa. Maybe I should have been there.”

He continued: “I look back and think I should have supported them more but my mental health was all over the place.

“There are plenty of supporters who don’t see what goes on behind closed doors to players under that amount of pressure.

“Maybe they don’t want to see it because we are highly paid in the jobs we do.

“But for many players in a relegation battle it takes a huge amount to stay up.

“You take a lot of things to heart and it stays with you forever, even after that battle on the pitch is over.

“Luckily they found a way of grinding out results, but I felt weird not being there. They celebrated at Old Trafford like they had won a trophy.

“Not to be a part of that was difficult. Suddenly you are back for pre-season and you don’t feel like a part of the team.”

Thankfully, Ashton is in a much better place following his retirement December 2009 aged just 26.

The same cannot be said for West Ham, however.

Of their final four games, three of them are against teams just below them and fighting for survival – including Saturday’s opponents, Norwich.

The other is Man Utd at Old Trafford – a throwback to Alan Curbishley’s side that put together a stunning run of four straight wins from their final four games.

But 13 years on, and Ashton cannot believe the club are requiring an identical set of results to escape from the unthinkable once more.

He sighs at the mere mention of David Moyes’ men, fresh off the back of another disappointing result against Burnley: “It is like Groundhog Day, it’s tedious to watch.

“You have all the razzmatazz and excitement about the new season and going for Europe and then once again it is a case of them struggling.

“You can’t look past the recruitment method of the past 10-15 years. I wouldn’t even call it a method.

“Recruitment should be the result of long-term planning, but it always seems that at the start of the season there is a change of manager and a new set of players we know nothing about and can’t get behind.

“Every top club who get rid of a player they deem not good enough, West Ham are first in line to snap them up. It hasn’t been good enough.”

With how they are playing at the moment, I would be confident in them picking up points at Old Trafford compared to playing Norwich. That’s how frustrating they are.

He added: “Deep down I am optimistic for West Ham, purely because I can’t see the other teams below them winning a game.

“If they play like they did against Chelsea they will be fine, but that’s the odd thing for the fans that watch them every week.

“Why can’t they be consistent? Only Moyes knows.

“With how they are playing at the moment, I would be confident in them picking up points at Old Trafford compared to playing Norwich. That’s how frustrating they are.”

As for Norwich, where Ashton made his name after an impressive 18-month spell, their fate has been written for a while, but it could officially be confirmed today.

Ashton was just 20 when he experienced similar relegation heartbreak with Norwich in 2005.

In a sense, he is almost relieved the weight of the drop will finally be lifted from the Canaries players and manager Daniel Farke.

Ashton explained: “When you are in that kind of battle, it is day in, day out.

“It must be great to be mid-table so you can enjoy your football and then go home and have no worries. But down the bottom you take it home with you.

“The issue then is getting rid of it. But with this turnaround after lockdown there was no time for that. You can’t filter it out. It stays with you.”

Ashton will be there to watch the game at Carrow Road as a pundit: “The fans will always ask who I prefer and who I am backing. Obviously I will sit on the fence with that one.”

But he will spare a moment for the young crop at Norwich whose first experience of Prem football has been soured.

“For the likes of Todd Cantwell, Max Aarons, Jamal Lewis, it will be difficult.

“They will have loved every minute of it. That’s what is so devastating.

“You don’t want to lose that Premier League feeling and dropping down into the Championship once you have got a taste can be crushing.

“But there are positives to take from this season. I would like to think the fans see something different in the structure of the club.

“They aren’t an Aston Villa or a Fulham who will throw £100m at new players. They want to build something.”

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