SHEFFIELD Wednesday captain Darren Purse last night quit Hillsborough as manager Alan Irvine confirmed his interest in signing controversial Notts County striker Lee Hughes.
Veteran Purse left the Owls by mutual consent and opened the door for a move to Championship play-off chasers Millwall, who had earlier enquired about the centre-half.
Purse has struggled in his time at Hillsborough, and was even booed by Owls supporters after his clumsy challenge conceded a penalty against Charlton last weekend. The writing seemed to be the wall when Irvine brought in three new centre-halves in this month's January transfer window.
Purse, 34 next month, has spent 18 months at Hillsborough but his place has been put in jeopardy by the arrival this month of defenders Mark Reynolds, Michael Morrison and Reda Johnson.
Irvine revealed that Millwall manager Kenny Jackett had enquired about Purse's availability and the player was now having discussions about his future.
Irvine wants Hughes, who spent three years in prison for causing death by dangerous driving, to bolster his side's push for promotion to the Championship but the move threatens to split the club's support.
Hughes, 34, returned to the game three years ago at Oldham Athletic but was booted out of Boundary Park after a bust-up at a fans night with manager John Sheridan, who is a popular former Wednesday player.
He has spent the last 18 months at Notts County and bagged 33 goals last season as the Magpies won promotion and the League Two title.
Although Carlisle United striker Gary Madine became the Owls' fourth new signing of the month this week, Irvine has been promised further funding to bring in two more players by chairman Milan Mandaric.
Brentford winger Myles Weston, 22, is on his list of targets but it is the possible arrival of Hughes that has sparked most discussion.
Speaking ahead of tomorrow's trip to Leyton Orient, Irvine said: "We have made an enquiry about Lee Hughes but that is as far as it has gone. We asked Notts County and we were told that he was not available – so that is probably it as far as I'm concerned unless they come back and say they have changed their mind.
"You always have to take into consideration what fans think but any decisions made, regardless of who the player is, will be based on football," Irvine added.
"Lee has got quality and is a goalscorer. His record this year is very good and it has been throughout his career."
Hughes still has another 18 months to serve on his contract but County are keen to reduce their wage bill after lavish spending under previous owners last season.
Irvine's desire to bolster his attack will again raise questions about the future of striker Paul Heffernan, who has started only one league game since his summer move from Doncaster Rovers.
Irvine, meanwhile, says there have been no enquiries for Mark Beevers despite reports linking the young defender with a move to Middlesbrough.
Beevers, 21, is viewed as a potential target for Boro in the wake of the 2m sale of defender David Wheater to Bolton Wanderers.
Irvine has not revealed whether he would sanction the departure but says Beevers is still developing as a player at Hillsborough.
"Mark is very highly thought of here and has lots of potential but he has to continue to improve if he wants to achieve what he is capable of," Irvine said. "It is dangerous to assume that a change of scenery will make you a better player. The grass is not always greener on the other side. I know lots of players who have gone for a 'change of scenery' and soon wanted to come back.
"I still have high hopes for Mark and I feel he is going to improve," Irvine added.
"There are times when he plays exceptionally well and there are times when he makes mistakes that cost us goals but people have to remember how young he still is."
It is likely that Beevers would command a fee in the region of 1m should the Owls decide to sell but Boro manager Tony Mowbray is also interested in signing former West Bromwich Albion defender Curtis Davies on loan from Aston Villa.
While Irvine is enjoying the luxury of shopping for new players, he has also stressed that he is not an advocate of football's transfer windows
"It is an extremely busy period but I am not a lover of these transfer windows," he said. "I would rather recruit at my own pace but that's the system and we have got to deal with it so we are working really hard behind the scenes to do the best business we possibly can."
Defender Lewis Buxton will return to the Owls squad tomorrow after over a month on the sidelines with a hamstring injury. Defender Jon Otsemobor (calf) is now the only player on the treatment table at Hillsborough.