West Brom open contract talks
West Bromwich Albion have opened contract negotiations in an effort to head off interest in two of their best players.
Head coach Steve Clarke has revealed that talks have begun with midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu and striker Shane Long - two key components in the Hawthorns success story - while discussions have also kicked off with experienced central defender Gareth McAuley.
"The players we want to keep at the club … I am confident they will stay," said Clarke. "We are speaking to Youssouf, Shane and Gareth.
"We have been thinking about next season since September but this one is not finished. I am very conscious of that. We have 44 points and we're eighth place in the table. If we don't win another game, we won't finish eighth."
Mulumbu's popularity at his first English club has not spared him a heavy fine and criticism for his madcap last-minute sending-off in last weekend's defeat at West Ham.
Clarke confirmed in the build-up to the DR Congo international starting his three-match suspension with tomorrow's (Saturday) visit of Arsenal that he had been subject to the club's internal disciplinary code.
"He was very apologetic," he added. "What he did was sheer frustration at a disappointing performance. It was completely out of character. I've never seen anything like that from him. He let himself down and has apologised.
"We have had three red cards this season (Youssouf, Peter Odemwingie at Fulham and Goran Popov against Tottenham) and they have all been avoidable.
"All three were the fault of our players. It's something we have to address. They are human failings and everybody makes mistakes.
"They all apologised and held their hands up straightaway. We try to move on.
"Youssouf's was a silly red card and deserved the punishment it got. If the rules state that kicking the ball at another player is a three-match ban, I can't argue with that."
Clarke has dismissed revenge as a factor when Arsenal arrive at The Hawthorns tomorrow, Arsene Wenger's side having benefited from a highly dubious penalty in their pre-Christmas home victory over Albion.
Santi Cazorla was at the centre of the Baggies' anger that afternoon but the head coach said: "It should be motivation enough that we want to put in a strong performance at home."