Galey backs Deano to reach a new level

Tony Gale is tipping Dean Ashton to take the Premiership by storm next season and win a call-up to the full England squad.

The 22-year-old strike earned rave reviews for his performance in the FA Cup final against Liverpool last month, and our former defender believes he will become one of the country's most feared strikers when the new campaign gets underway.

"I thought Dean had an outstanding game in the cup final and really showed his class," says Tony. "I think that is the sign of a real top player - when you do it on the big occasions. I've got to be honest, some of his touches put Peter Crouch in the shade and, when you compare the two, it could quite easily be Dean going to the World Cup.

"I think he was struggling for full fitness towards the end of the season but, if he gets a good summer and pre-season under his belt, I really can see him making an outstanding impact next year.

"I also like his attitude. I saw him play in a losing side at Norwich earlier in the season, and he was superb - really trying for the team and working hard for his team-mates despite not getting any decent service.

"Had he arrived at Upton Park a few months earlier, I really think he would have been involved with England by now, and I'm sure it will only be a matter of time before he gets a call-up if keeps performing at the level he reached in Cardiff."

And now that the dust has settled on our unforgettable trip to the Welsh capital three weeks ago, Tony admits he has finally managed to get the pain of defeat out of his system.

"First and foremost, it was just a fantastic experience," he says. "I took my wife Lyndsey and kids Anthony and Alex to the game and, I must admit, it was one of the best weekends I've had in my life.

"I think most people agreed that the best team lost, but the best man won - Steven Gerrard was without doubt the key difference on the day. At one point in extra-time, he came to take a corner at the West Ham end, and the fans applauded him - just two minutes after he'd scored that goal. To me, that epitomised the spirit of the whole day.

"One of the nicest things for me was the atmosphere between the fans - not only during the game but also the night before and after the match. I also think our fans won the day when it came to support - Liverpool fans are renowned for being noisy but our boys out-sung them throughout.

"In fact, we won everything on the day apart from the trophy! And despite the fact that we earned a lot of plaudits for our performance, that still hurts. That 26-year drought is still hanging round our neck and it would have been such a massive boost for the Club to bring the cup home - especially in the year that we lost Ron Greenwood and John Lyall.

"This team has got the quality to go on and win trophies in the future, though, and if they can build on the success of last season, it won't be long before some silverware does end up at Upton Park."

Tony will be back with his regular weekly column at the beginning of the new 2006-07 season.