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Football: Albion see chink of light in Hughes transfer gloom.

Talks between West Bromwich Albion and transfer-seeking striker Lee Hughes ended in deadlock last night, but with some hope that the crisis might be resolved.

Chief executive John Wile and chairman Tony Hale met with the 32-goal striker and his representatives for four hours at The Hawthorn and there was a great deal to be discussed.

Wile said: "We have made progress and we are going to carry on talking. There is a lot to be resolved and we hope to resolve it amicably. We've had a good discussion."

The meeting began with a mending of fences and discussions as to how to appease Hughes, who shook the club to its foundations last weekend. The former Kidderminster Harriers hit-man and his agents feel aggrieved that he is way down in the pay scale of Albion players.

Hughes is reportedly on pounds 1,400 a week - it could be even less - while players like Richard Sneekes and Fabian De Freitas are on around pounds 3,000 and pounds 5,000 respectively.

While Hughes is the country's top scorer with 32 goals, De Freitas has contributed just six in a season of underachievement by the former Bolton Wanderers centre-forward.

Since Hughes handed in a written transfer request after the 1-0 win over Bury last Saturday, Middlesbrough and the new Scottish Premier League champions, Rangers, were immediately put on red alert.

Albion value Hughes at between pounds 5 million and pounds 7 million, but they are loathe to cash in on a player who they are counting on to form the basis of season-ticket sales for 1999-2000.

Albion's board of directors are prepared to double his wages, but they are reluctant to break the bank at a time when they are forecasting a loss of pounds 1.5 million at their year-end accounts in the autumn.

Hughes is genuinely reluctant to turn his back on the club he loves. The flame-haired striker's ultimate ambition is to win promotion to the Premiership with Albion, but he has great doubts that the club have that potential in the short or medium term. More than that, he is attracted by the challenge of playing Premiership football.

Cash-strapped Stoke City last night told seven of their top players - including a quartet of former West Midland stars - that they are no longer wanted at the Britannia Stadium.

Five players will not be offered new contracts at the end of the season and two internationals - Icelandic defender Larus Sigurdsson and Bermuda striker Kyle Lightbourne, formerly of Walsall and Coventry City - have been put on the transfer list.

The five who must find new clubs are a trio of midfielders, ex-Wolverhampton Wanderers man Kevin Keen, Richard Forsyth, once of Kidderminster Harriers and Birmingham City and Ray Wallace, defender Stephen Woods and another ex-St Andrew's star, striker Simon Sturridge.

Stoke were relegated from Division One last season and under manager Brian Little, were early leaders in the Second Division. But they are set to end the season in mid-table, with the former Aston Villa boss forced to sell to cut the wage bill.
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Author:Ward, Michael
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 7, 1999
Words:512
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