West Bromwich Albion v Sheffield Wednesday: Doubts over future should act as spur insists Irvine

SHEFFIELD Wednesday manager Alan Irvine insists that uncertainty surrounding the future of his playing squad will not hinder the club's fight against relegation.

Although 10 players will be out of contract at Hillsborough this summer, the Owls are not negotiating any new deals until the club is mathematically safe – or relegated to League One.

Speaking ahead of tonight's trip to West Bromwich Albion, Irvine said: "I have heard some people saying that out of contract players are not bothered because they won't be here next season.

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"I don't subscribe to that because there is no guarantee anyone will get a contract anywhere in the current climate.

"Any player out of contract should be very mindful of that and should be ready to give the best they can in every game.

"Hopefully, the out of contract players should be playing for their futures either here or somewhere else. They should all be chasing their next contracts."

After scoring two goals in the weekend victory over Leicester City, striker Leon Clarke, below, insisted that securing Championship survival was a bigger priority than securing his new deal.

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Former England internationals Michael Gray and Francis Jeffers, Dutch winger Etienne Esajas, American international Frank Simek, defender Richard Hinds, midfielder Sean McAllister, and youngsters Luke Boden, Rocky Lekaj and Richard O'Donnell are the other players whose contracts are due to expire.

With 12 games to go, the Owls are currently in the relegation zone on goal difference.

Irvine said: "It is impossible to plan for the future unless we know what the immediate future is. We will only look at the situation (regarding contracts) when we know where we are going to be."

Tension is mounting in the battle against the drop with seven clubs separated by only three points. Although Peterborough United and Plymouth Argyle appear to be falling away at the bottom, Irvine insists that there is still time for the picture to change.

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"I wouldn't write anyone off in this league yet and plenty of teams can still drop into it," he said. "Peterborough's task is becoming harder and harder but I am sure Paul Mariner will be saying to his lads at Plymouth that they still have a chance.

"We need five more wins and if we get those points, it doesn't really matter what everyone else does."

Tonight's opponents West Brom suffered a shock defeat at the hands of Queens Park Rangers at the weekend which allowed Nottingham Forest to seize second place in the Championship table.

Irvine is fully aware that the Baggies will be looking to bounce back but says his players are in confident mood after beating promotion chasers Leicester.

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"They are not in third position in this league because they lose too many times and they will be extremely dangerous having lost a rare game at the weekend.

"We went back to basics against Leicester," he added. "We didn't try to do anything mind-blowing, we made the tactics easy to understand, and the mental characteristics needed were straight-forward as well.

"We are going to have to make sure that we do the basics right again. We need to make sure that our shape and organisation is good when we don't have possession and capitalise on any weaknesses in the West Brom team.

"There will be pressure on both teams for completely different reasons. There will be an expectation from West Brom's side that they will win this game and I suppose that takes a little bit of the emphasis off our lads – but we need the points as desperately as they do."

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The Owls boast an excellent record at The Hawthorns and are unbeaten in their last eight visits since 1975.

Defender Tommy Spurr has recovered from a head injury suffered against Leicester and is likely to keep his place in an unchanged Owls side. Only defender Lewis Buxton is unavailable due to a hamstring problem and should return to training next week.

West Brom will again be without striker Roman Bednar, who suffered a groin injury in the FA Cup two weeks ago, but winger Chris Brunt, who spent five years with the Owls, is a key player in Roberto Di Matteo's side.

Last six games: Albion DDLLWL, Owls LWLLLW.

Last time: Albion 1 Wednesday 1; November 6, 2007; Championship.

Referee: SW Mathieson (Cheshire).