Ashton in Curbishley's thoughts

West Ham United's leading scorer Dean Ashton is firmly in contention to figure when West Ham United travel away to Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.

Ashton has been a substitute for the last three league outings but there were signs off the bench at Liverpool on Wednesday that he could form an effective partnership with the fit-again Bobby Zamora. The striker, still only 24, also showed up well in a reserve-team outing against Sunday's hosts at the end of last month, scoring one and making another for in-form starlet Freddie Sears. With Carlton Cole also in the frame, Curbishley has plenty of options for White Hart Lane.

"It has been a long road for him," said Curbishley about Ashton, who has scored six goals this season having returned in August from a year out with an ankle injury and then endured, from October, a six-week setback with a knee problem. "I have spoken to him regularly about [his opportunities]. He's accepted it. He might not be happy about it but he has accepted it. Let's see what the run-in brings. The one thing you can't get away from is he has got more goals than anybody else."

Of late, Curbishley has opted for Cole as a lone striker - citing his "responsibility to the team as well as individuals" and the success of such a tactic in big games like home wins against Manchester United and Liverpool. He is well aware of what Ashton can do, however, and the form that saw him called for the England squad as recently as October. "If we can produce some chances, I wouldn't mind him getting on the end of them," acknowledged Curbishley.

"[In 2005/06], when West Ham had that great cup run and decent season - he was playing regularly up front with Zamora or [Marlon] Harewood so if I decide to play 4-4-2 and Deano is in there, I have got no worries about that ... He is strong. It is all muscle and he has worked ever so hard." The manager is also thinking about giving a game soon to the likes of the 18-year-old Sears, or attacking midfielder Jack Collison, claiming: "One or two of the young lads might get a chance."