ALAN Curbishley has revealed that Dean Ashton could make his first competitive start since the 2006 FA Cup final at Birmingham City this weekend.

Ashton, who missed the whole of last season with a broken ankle, returned to action as a 62nd minute substitute in Saturday's disappointing 2-0 home defeat to Manchester City.

The loss featured a host of poor performances from Hammers players, with striker Bobby Zamora chief among them.

And Irons boss Curbishley has revealed that the 23-year-old Ashton - who scored three times in pre-season - could replace the former Tottenham man at St Andrew's.

"(Dean's) going to need a bit more time, but he's done the pre-season which we're very pleased about," said Curbishley, who apologised to the club's fans following the City debacle.

"He needs games and the ideal situation is not what happened against City - being sent on with half-an-hour to go and told get on with it.

"He's desperate to be playing and we've got to do better than that or he'll be starting, that's for sure.

"While Ashton claims he is in the shape of his life following his year-long recovery, Curbishley admitted that the ex Norwich City forward still needed more time on the pitch to re-discover his match sharpness.

"He was a little bit rusty with the ball going up to him (against City),laying it off and seeing people's runs, but I don't think we helped anyone," the manager added.

"A couple of balls went into him but we stood and watched instead of going up and joining him.

"With Ashton unable to link-up with his team-mates, the Irons slipped to an ignominious defeat - one that left Curbishley visibly angry and upset.

"It's a massive disappointment. I can't take any positives from it whatsoever," he conceded.