Transfer D-Day looms for City

CHRIS WISE Norwich City manager Nigel Worthington faces a battle against time to strengthen his squad after Dean Ashton's big money move back to the Premiership was finally approved by the club board.


Norwich City manager Nigel Worthington faces a battle against time to strengthen his squad after Dean Ashton's big money move back to the Premiership was finally approved by the club board.

A protracted transfer saga should finally draw to a close today when the 22-year-old striker completes his long predicted move back to the top flight with West Ham.

The London club had a record £7.25m bid for Ashton's services accepted by the Canaries on Saturday evening and providing he agrees personal terms and comes through a medical he will be unveiled as a Hammers' player before tonight's derby clash against Fulham at Upton Park.

With the transfer window closing at midnight next Tuesday Worthington now has just nine days to find a replacement for his star striker - and speculation linking him with a multi-million pound move for highly-rated Cardiff youngster Cameron Jerome is bound to increase now that he has a considerable sum of money to spend.

Another possible target is Coventry hit-man Gary McSheffrey, who has also been mentioned as a potential replacement for Ashton in the tabloid gossips columns, even though - like Jerome - he has played most of his football as a support striker rather than as a target man.

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Jerome took his tally for the season up to an impressive 15 at the weekend as Cardiff won 2-1 at Leicester while McSheffrey also did the business for his side, netting twice in a 6-1 thrashing of Derby to further cement his place among the Coca-Cola Championship's top scorers on 12 goals.

Both men would clearly be welcome additions to Worthington's first team squad - although it would come as no surprise if Worthington also attempted to bring in a like-for-like replacement for Ashton, with Luton frontman Steve Howard having been touted as a possible target in the past.

After revealing the club's reasons for accepting West Ham's offer, which includes a 15 per cent sell-on clause, Worthington went on to tell supporters he would be working “around the clock” to bring in new faces before the transfer deadline.

“We're always committed to trying to keep our best players at the club, but the size of the bid coupled with Dean's desire to make the move happen meant that after talking it through with the board and the lad himself we've decided to accept this offer,” said the City boss.

“If the move does go through, I'd like to place on record my thanks to Dean for his contribution and his professionalism during his time at Norwich and wish him all the very best in his future career. Meanwhile, our round-the-clock efforts to strengthen our squad for the crucial months ahead continue.”

It remains to be seen how much Worthington is given to replace his record signing. City will clear around £5.5m on the Ashton deal once former club Crewe and the player himself have been paid off under the terms of the deal that brought him to Carrow Road. But chief executive Doncaster would not be drawn on whether the entire sum would be made available, saying it was in the club's best interests for such matters to remain private.

“We certainly understand our supporters' desire to know as much about what is going on as possible,” he said. “But I'm sure they in turn realise that it is not always possible to give out all the information they are looking for.

“If we made a figure public then all of a sudden all the clubs and agents we deal with will know what we have got to spend and the prices would go up accordingly.

“There will be occasions when we are quoted silly money for players and what we must do is make sure we get the best possible prices when buying in players - just as we do when we sell them.

“We have to carry on like we have been doing over the last eight or nine years - which is to keep our cards close to our chest and only release details of any transfer activity when we got something concrete to report.

“There will clearly be some speculation about what is available. All we can do is say what we have always said on the subject in the past - that the maximum amount of money that we can make available to Nigel will be made available to him.”

Yesterday's announcement brought to an end weeks of speculation linking Ashton with a move to the capital which reached a head on Saturday morning when it was widely reported that an £8m deal had been struck. Those claims were supported by a couple of separate sources at Upton Park - but City insisted they were wide of the mark, with Doncaster issuing a statement before the home game against Watford which read: “We have not agreed a fee for Dean with West Ham for £8m, nor indeed accepted any other bids for any other players with any other club.”

That was still the line being touted by the club after the 3-2 defeat - but a deal was clearly on the cards, albeit for a slightly lower sum, and it wasn't long before City directors had gathered to discuss the situation, with the final go-ahead being given at 7pm - and being made public the following morning.

Explaining the sequence of events, Doncaster added: “Over the past few weeks there has been intense speculation about bids we were supposed to have received for Dean. On Saturday we received a bid worth a total of £7.25m from West Ham, plus a sell-on. That's by far the largest bid we have received and a club record by some distance, and after full consultation with the manager, the board and the player himself, it was decided it was in the best long-term interests of the club to accept this offer.

“We have said all along that as soon as there was actual news to announce we would do so.”

While one transfer saga is poised to reach its conclusion today, another is still rumbling under the surface, with Robert Green's future continuing to be the subject of much debate amongst fans.

The City keeper threw his shirt into the crowd after Saturday's game - and that was seen by some as a farewell gesture before making his own big-money move to the top-flight.

Portsmouth, who were hammered 5-0 by Birmingham at the weekend, have been linked with the England keeper since Harry Redknapp's return to the club, but Worthington made light of the suggestion that this was another done deal.

“I hear someone chucked the shirt back to Robert and he dropped it!” he joked before adding, on a more serious note: "As far as phone calls and offers are concerned there is absolutely nothing to report and that's 100 per cent true as I speak.”