West Bromwich Albion head coach Steve Clarke has no intention of selling Shane Long in the January transfer window and remains confident the Republic of Ireland striker will sign a new contract with the club.
Clarke has been the middle man in a delicate process of restoring Long to the forefront of his side after the Baggies came within minutes of selling him to Hull City on transfer deadline day.
Long intimated after scoring twice in the 2-2 draw with Aston Villa on Monday that the club appear no closer to finalising the details of a new deal, with his existing contract due to expire this summer, although WBA have a 12-month extension option.
With Saido Berahino expected to conclude his new contract negotiations very shortly, Long, who has scored four times in his last four games for club and country, has now become the burning issue for Clarke, chairman Jeremy Peace as well as sporting and technical director Richard Garlick.
There are a growing number of clubs who are interested in Long's services in January, with Hull and Stoke City both monitoring the situation, but Clarke will fight to keep the player.
"Why would I sell my best, most in-form striker? I don't think we should be talking about what might happen or could happen. If Shane continues to play at that level the contract issue will sort itself out," Clarke said. "If he's on that level there's no doubt. If you are asking me if I'm selling Shane in January? No I'm not.
"I haven't considered it. Shane is in the team as the striker in form and he's playing on a level that everybody knew he had. 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. I just want him to do the best he can for the club.
"I'm not in charge of the contract situation. My job is to get Shane playing to the level he's playing at on the pitch and in the last couple of games I think I've done that pretty well."
Clarke has played a pivotal role in preventing the striker from becoming unsettled after the failure of his transfer deadline day move to Hull and has held discussions with Long to convince him that he would play a major role for the club.
"I spoke to him immediately after it all died down and he assured me he was fine," Clarke explained. "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. It could have been unsettling for him. But I thought Shane spoke very well the other night about the whole situation and how he'd dealt with it and moved on.
"The relationship between me and Shane was always strong and that was important. That was something I wanted to protect all along."