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FOOTBALL: West Brom to cash in on hitman Lee.

Byline: PETER ENTWHISTLE

WEST BROM have sparked a transfer scramble by putting star striker Lee Hughes up for sale.

The 25-year-old Hughes, who scored 23 goals last season as Albion reached the First Division play-offs, has been unable to agree to a new deal to keep him at The Hawthorns.

His current contract runs out next summer and the Baggies may now look to cash in on their most prized asset rather than lose him for nothing at the end of the season.

The announcement is certain to spark a scramble for his signature, with fierce Midlands rivals Birmingham and Wolves already having expressed an interest in the Birmingham-born player, who has been an Albion fan all his life.

A club statement said: "West Bromwich Albion Football Club is disappointed to announce that despite several weeks of strenuous efforts, the club has been unable to persuade Lee Hughes to sign a new contract.

"Lee Hughes has one year remaining on his current contract and though we would expect him to start the new season at West Bromwich Albion, we have to accept the realities of the situation which mean that Lee could leave the club at the end of the season without the club receiving any transfer fee.

"As a consequence the club has confirmed that it will give serious consideration to any substantial offer which we receive for Lee Hughes."

Hughes' agent Neil Fewings was remaining tight-lipped over the future of the forward.

"There's been a statement put out by the club and we've got nothing to add to that," said Fewings.

But Baggies chairman Paul Thompson chairman was more forthcoming and expects plenty of suitors for a player considered by many to be the best striker outside of the Premiership.

Thompson said: "Obviously Premiership sides will be interested in him but there are some excellent teams in the First Division and one of those might be right for Lee if the offer is right."

Those comments seem certain to prompt First Division rivals Birmingham to renew their interest after their pounds 4million bid for the striker was turned down in the summer.

And Wolves boss Dave Jones, who is in the market for a goalscorer and had a recent pounds 4million offer for Preston's Jon Macken turned down, might attempt to lure him to the Baggies' arch rivals.

Wherever he goes, though, Thompson is resigned to losing him from The Hawthorns.

"We're all very disappointed. Lee is a terrific footballer and is undoubtedly the best striker in the First Division.

"He has given superb service to the club and has scored twenty-plus goals a season for us. So obviously we're bitterly disappointed.

"I think he will start the season with us but obviously we'll have to give serious consideration to any big offers that came in for him."

CAPTION(S):

ON THE MOVE: Lee Hughes is set to leave the club he supported as a boy before joining as a player
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jul 28, 2001
Words:493
Previous Article:BOXING: Woods eases to victory.
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