Dean Ashton has recounted the day he felt he proved himself to the Claret and Blue Army by firing West Ham United to a memorable victory over Manchester City.
The striker, who celebrates his 35th birthday on Saturday, was signed from Norwich City in January 2006 for a club-record £7.25 million fee and got off to a fantastic start in a Claret and Blue shirt.
Ashton plundered goals in wins over Sunderland and Birmingham City and a draw with Everton in his opening three Premier League appearances, but the then 22-year-old admitted he still did not feel he had proved himself to the Hammers.
But when he netted twice more in that unforgettable 2-1 FA Cup quarter-final victory at Manchester City on 20 March 2006, any doubts the player himself might have been feeling also evaporated.
West Ham, of course, went on to reach the final, where Ashton hit the net again, only for opponents Liverpool to prevail in a heart-breaking penalty shootout.
“I was lucky that I didn’t play for Norwich when West Ham played against them in the FA Cup third round and knocked them out,” Ashton recalled. “So, I was able to be part of that special FA Cup run.
“At that stage of my West Ham career, it was all about repaying that record fee that the Club had paid for me and proving to my teammates and the staff that I was up to it.
“The two goals I got at Manchester City in the FA Cup sixth round in March 2006 went a long way towards me proving myself worthy of that price tag.”
It was pleasing to be able to prove in that first six or seven games that I was worthy of the fee and being at a club like West Ham
Ashton’s goals at the City of Manchester Stadium were both proof of his outstanding quality.
The first saw him exchange passes with Matty Etherington, collect a flick from captain Nigel Reo-Coker, beat Sylvain Distin with a superb turn and rifle a low left-foot finish past David James.
The second showed the forward’s knack for being in the right place at the right time as he converted Yossi Benayoun’s cross from close-range.
More than a decade on, Ashton remains rightly proud of his memorable performance against a City side managed by current West Ham assistant Stuart Pearce.
“The first goal, a low left-foot finish from Nigel’s pass, showed what I was all about as a player, then the second one was put on a plate for me by Yossi.
“I wasn’t proven. Yes, I’d had half a season in the Premier League with Norwich, but it was pleasing to be able to prove in that first six or seven games that I was worthy of the fee and being at a club like West Ham.”
Ashton went on to start a 1-0 Premier League win over Manchester City, who visit London Stadium on Saturday, in April 2006, and totalled 19 goals in 56 appearances in all competitions.