Clarke tips McAuley for season prizes
Steve Clarke believes Gareth McAuley could all but clean up on West Bromwich Albion's Player of the Year awards, and hopes that recognition will carry the bond between player and club into a third season.
Eyebrows were raised when Clarke's predecessor, Roy Hodgson, brought the Northern Ireland veteran to The Hawthorns on a free transfer two years ago.
The centre-half had not previously played in the Premier League, but has been a revelation and is currently in talks about extending his deal.
Head coach Clarke has praised McAuley's professionalism and durability and hopes he is now in line for a double boost.
"As I've said before, we're talking to three players about new contracts and those discussions are ongoing," he said.
"Gareth, I'm sure, will pick up all the Player of the Year awards. I also want him to get the deal he deserves here from the people who sort out such matters, and we can get it put to bed."
Former Leicester and Ipswich player McAuley could be a candidate to wear the captain's armband in Saturday's Premier League game at Southampton.
Skipper Chris Brunt is a big doubt for this weekend, and maybe beyond, after hurting his knee late in last weekend's home draw against Newcastle.
Right-back Billy Jones, who scored his side's second-half equaliser in that game, will also have a late fitness check on what Clarke described as "a nasty gash" on his leg.
The coach warned of a tough battle at St Mary's against opponents who continue to surprise under new management.
"I'm conscious that I don't want to let this season drift away," he said. "We have five difficult games left and we need to pick up as many points as we can so we can look back on this season with some satisfaction.
"The manager [Mauricio Pochettino] has done well at Southampton and has a good group of players. He has done a good job with them.
"They are an attractive team and, at home especially, they are dangerous. Hopefully we'll be ready for them on Saturday."
Around 2,000 of Albion's 3,000-strong weekend following will be travelling to the South Coast for free. The Baggies are laying on 40 coaches to supporters in a repeat of a gesture they have made for several years.