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FOOTBALL: DESPERATE DEN WARNS: HANDS OFF pounds 5m HUGHES.

PREMIERSHIP clubs have been warned to lay off West Brom's pounds 5million- rated striking sensation Lee Hughes.

Hughes, 22, in only his second season as a professional, is the leading scorer in the country with 18 goals in 18 games after scoring his second hat-trick of the campaign against Crystal Palace on Tuesday night.

He has already attracted attention from Arsenal, Middlesbrough, Leicester City and Wimbledon, but West Brom boss Denis Smith is adamant that Hughes is going nowhere and is hopeful that his tough stance will deter any club from testing the water with a bid.

Smith said: "We are not encouraging any bids and perhaps that is why I have unplugged my phone. We want to be a Premiership club and you don't get to the Premiership by selling your best players.

"He is an important member of the side and to score 18 goals already this season is tremendous striking by any stretch of the imagination and I hope that it continues."

Hughes, who was working as a roofer before joining Albion for just pounds 250,000 from non-League Kidderminster Harriers in the summer of 1997, admits that he is in dreamland after his latest goalscoring heroics.

He used to watch Albion from the terraces and said: "It is unbelievable to score at the Hawthorns, and to get a hat-trick here is just a dream come true.

"I hope that I can score some more and I would love to get another hat- trick against Birmingham City.

"I haven't scored in a derby match yet so it would be great if I could find the net on Saturday.

"I never thought that I would score 18 goals so early in the season.

"I set myself a target of 20 to 25 back in August but now I haven't got a clue. I just want to get as many as I can and help Albion to win promotion."

Michael Gray's pursuit of a place in the England squad has been put on hold. Sunderland fans demanded an international call-up for the left- back after yet another starring role, in their win at Crewe.

But Gray may face a lay-off after sustaining an ankle injury that left him in hospital overnight.

Striker Danny Dichio also failed to finish the match to leave manager Peter Reid with a mounting injury list.

Reid said yesterday: "Gray and Dichio have had X-rays which showed no broken bones. But both sustained ligament damage and will have scans to show the extent of the problems."

Winger Nicky Summerbee will have a second X-ray on his calf injury. "It hasn't healed as quickly as we hoped and he will see a consultant," revealed Reid."

Sunderland are now rated 2/1 on to win the title and 7/1 on to clinch promotion.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:West, Lee
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 5, 1998
Words:467
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