Belfast Telegraph

Long going nowhere - Clarke

West Brom head coach Steve Clarke has warned rival clubs to forget poaching in-form striker Shane Long in January.

Long came within hours of quitting The Hawthorns in early September after Albion agreed a fee of £6.5million with Hull for the Republic of Ireland international.

It is understood Hull tried to renegotiate the deal at the eleventh hour, resulting in Albion pulling the plug.

At the time Clarke claims Long had endured "an interrupted start to the season" due to a couple of niggly injuries and international call ups, along with an ongoing contract saga.

They are all reasons why Albion were prepared to let Long leave, but with the 26-year-old now back to his best with four goals in his last four matches for club and country, it has become unthinkable any move will be considered when the transfer window re-opens.

"If Shane continues to play at the level he is right now the contract issue will sort itself out," said Clarke.

"If he's on that level there's no doubt. But are you asking me if I'm selling Shane in January? No, I'm not.

"Why would I sell my best, most in-form striker? I don't think Shane will be going anywhere in January. I haven't considered it.

"I just want Shane to continue in this run of form. I don't want to spend the next four weeks talking about Shane's contract or whether he's going to be here after January because he will be."

Albion currently have an option for next season on Long, who joined West Brom from Reading for £6.5million two-and-a-half years ago.

With Long back in the goals and settled again, Clarke is convinced no ill feeling between club and player exists after the failed move to Hull.

"I spoke to Shane immediately after it all died down and he assured me he was fine," added Clarke.

"He understood - although maybe he didn't want to accept - the logic behind it.

"All I could do was assure him he was a big part of my plans and I liked him.

"How could I not like what Shane has done since I've been at the club? He's been tremendous for me, tremendous for the club since he came here.

"For me it was important to get him back on an even keel and get him playing again, but he was injured when we brought the two players in on deadline day (Stephane Sessegnon and Victor Anichebe).

"The team has evolved a little bit without him having the chance to make an impact in the team. Since then he's had to be patient, and he has been.

"You can see from his recent performances that not only has he been patient, but he's been working to make sure when his chance came he was ready to take it, and that's credit to him.

"We've seen with his performances in the last two games especially what he can bring to the team."

Long will undoubtedly spearhead Albion's strikeforce in Saturday's Barclays Premier League clash at Newcastle, a side that has shot up the table on the back of three successive victories.

Naturally, former Magpies assistant manager Clarke is in no mood to become Newcastle's fourth straight victim.

"They've done something that's really difficult to do in the Premier League which is win three games in a row," assessed Clarke.

"It happened to us last year when we managed to string together four in a row which rocketed us up into the top four at one stage.

"If you can put together a run like that it's good for your confidence and good for your league position.

"Newcastle have done that with three really big results for them, so it's up to us to make sure it doesn't become four big ones."

Clarke has conceded to having "lots of little doubts" with regard to his squad, without naming names.

The only player definitely ruled out is goalkeeper Ben Foster as he continues to recover from a stress fracture to a foot.

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