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Who Must Ashley Fletcher Kill to Get Into the First Team?

The transfer dispute is over, Antonio is injured. Fletcher's time is now

West Ham United v Middlesbrough - Premier League 2 Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images

21-year-old Ashley Fletcher was a notable absence from the bench in West Ham’s 1-0 win over Swansea City. Fans have been demanding to see the promising youngster on the pitch during their side’s recent run of bad form. Our wish could be set to come true.

This week, West Ham finally agreed to pay Manchester United a £1 million fee for the player. While Fletcher joined the club as a free agent, the deal was complicated and his former club demanded compensation. Things were heading towards a tribunal; it is thought that the striker’s price would have increased further had he continued appearing in the first team.

With this deal now completed, it could see Ashley Fletcher taking the pitch more frequently for West Ham’s first team. While Fletcher was unlikely to have single-handedly prevented the team’s awful run of form, he would have offered something different up front. Perhaps an agile foil to the less mobile Andy Carroll.

West Ham United v Crystal Palace - Premier League Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Fletcher hasn’t been seen in the first team since an eleven minute cameo off the bench in February’s 0-4 defeat to Manchester City. Questions about the young man’s position in the team have been swirling for some time now:

Despite the deal being agreed, Fletcher’s position in the first team doesn’t sound likely to change in the wake of the season-ending injury to Michail Antonio. This is the ideal time for a striker to make his way into the first team. This seems to be the case, but instead the much-maligned Jonathan Calleri could take advantage.

Slaven Bilic addressed the media at Wednesday’s press conference and spoke of the attacking options for the team:

"We're likely going to need both Andy and Jonathan on Saturday, and they'll share the minutes on the pitch. We're going to see about Jonathan Calleri. He's a very good professional. He is not a regular but he never dropped 1% of energy."

Fletcher has only managed two full games for West Ham this season, both came in the latter stages of 2016. He made his first start in the 1-4 League Cup spanking at Manchester United. It was in this game that Fletcher scored his first and only goal for the club.

Manchester United v West Ham United - EFL Cup Quarter-Final
A great moment in a depressing game
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

He started again the following week, when the Hammers were humiliated 1-5 at home to Arsenal. From this time, Fletcher has been confined to substitute appearances. Since December’s loss to the Gunners, he has only managed 37 minutes on the pitch.

In February we reported that Fletcher had been dropped to the under 23 squad. Meanwhile, the first team was playing Michail Antonio up front in the absence of the often-injured Andy Carrol.

This was particularly frustrating because Fletcher, while raw, should have been the chance to play. Looking at the limited number of minutes he’s had to cope with this season, it feels like a missed opportunity.

Ashley Fletcher's minutes
Ashley Fletcher's minutes this season make for grim reading

Hopefully now the deal has been agreed with Manchester United, we will be seeing a lot more of Ashley Fletcher in a West Ham shirt. He could be one of the club’s most important player’s next season. A Michail Antonio contract saga could be looming, while Calleri’s loan should mercifully be coming to an end in the summer. We are just one Andy Carroll injury away from Fletcher potentially leading the line for most of next season.

With that incredibly likely series of events, it’s time for Bilic to give Fletcher an extended run in the first team to begin to try and unlock his potential.