Dean Ashton has been singled out for special mention by Alan Curbishley for the way he led the line to powerful effect against Everton.
The in-form 24-year-old striker earned West Ham United a draw at Goodison Park with a thumping second-half header and his all-round contribution left his manager in upbeat mood. With eight goals in all competitions after his second strike in as many matches, Ashton is the club's leading scorer and looks to have put the ankle injury that ruined his 2006/07 campaign and the knee knock of earlier this season firmly behind him
"This season has been difficult for everybody," said Curbishley as he reflected on a positive display against a team challenging for Champions League football. "Along the way, I have had to introduce players and get them fit in the first team - and Dean has been one of them - and also pick up results as well. He came back. Then he took a knock and was out six or seven weeks. Then he came back again and, great credit to how strong he is, he has managed just to pick it up again. I have changed the team as we have gone along. I have played him up there with Carlton Cole and left him out when I thought it was right.
"[At Everton] I asked him to play him up on his own - always thinking I was going to put the young boy [Freddie Sears ] on - but I wanted to get a decent start. People talk to me about Dean Ashton but I have never seen him. He was injured for the whole of last season. I didn't know too much about how he played for West Ham and what he has achieved, so I am delighted with what has gone on now. He has, I think most West Ham fans would agree, looked sharper in the last three games."
The manager said his striker had long been training fully but said there were a number of factors that can impact on a striker's fortunes. "When you have been out that long, there are going to be ups and downs. Certainly when you are playing in the Premier League and sometimes we have not played so well and given him the opportunities ... [Against Everton] he relished it with the young boys around him and played the centre-forward role which we are delighted with."
Those "young boys" were the likes of 18-year-old duo Sears - who "is an unknown quantity and was unlucky not to score" and James Tomkins, who was making his senior debut and "got stronger as the game wore on". Added to that was the form of two other homegrown talents in Anton Ferdinand and Mark Noble and it was not hard to see why Curbishley concluded there were "some plus points for us out there".