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Stumbling Albion fear Hughes exit.

West Bromwich Albion fans fear they will lose Lee Hughes, one of the club's staunchest supporters, if Denis Smith's team fail to win promotion from the First Division this season, writes MICHAEL WARD.

The prospect of Premiership football coming to The Hawthorns has receded after Sunday's display of selestruction against Sunderland and Hughes' 13th and 14th goals of the campaign have merely increased the likelihood that the Smethwick-born striker will take a short cut to the Premiership next summer.

Albion have been besieged by scouts on the Hughes-watch since their flame-haired marksman reached double-figures for the season and hoisted himself into the pounds 4million price-bracket. Arsenal, the Pemiership champions, were the latest club to send a representative on Sunday.

Manager Smith has not lost heart or hope of a play-off place next spring, but he is painfully aware that the risk of losing Hughes has been heightened with each defeat.

The 22-year-old former Kidderminster marksman is a dedicated Albion fan, but his desire to play in the Premiership will outweigh the misguided loyalty of wanting to spend another season in the First Division, now that he knows he's good enough for the big stage.

Smth said: "I'm not surprised that the scouts have been watching Lee Hughes. They're doing their jobs. Lee wants to play in the Premiership, as we all do. It's the only place to be and what we must strive even harder to achieve."

The very least Albion fans will expect tomorrow night is instant atonement for Sunday's collapse when bottom club Queens Park Rangers, now re-united with their old boss Gerry Francis, visit The Hawthorns.
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Title Annotation:Football
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 20, 1998
Words:269
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