Dazzling deputy in contract stalemate

Mark Howard has attracted outside interest
Mark Howard has attracted outside interest
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Mark Howard’s future at Bloomfield Road is hanging by a thread.

The keeper, who has started the last five games in place of the injured Matt Gilks, has been offered a wage rise but has so far declined to put pen to paper on an extended contract.

If the stalemate continues, the 25-year-old will be free to move when his contract runs out on Sunday, the day after Pool’s home clash with Crystal Palace.

Howard has won many admirers since breaking into Pool’s team following Gilks’ groin tear, and that is part of the problem – other clubs have seen what he can do and are interested in signing him.

That means Howard, who signed a short-term contract in October, is able to ask for a substantial pay increase from the Seasiders but the club insist they won’t be held to ransom.

Manager Ian Holloway said: “Whether we keep him or not isn’t down to me,” making it clear that chairman Karl Oyston is dealing with the matter.

“Of course I am concerned about losing him. I am concerned about losing any of my players.

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“We aren’t Manchester United, so if another club comes in for one of my lot he might want to go. I am concerned about every single player all of the time.

“I want Mark to stay, the chairman agrees with me but we’ll just have to see how that pans out.”

The irony is that Gilks is fit and available for Saturday’s game.

If Howard has not agreed a new deal by then, it is almost certain Gilks would come straight back into the side.

But if Howard was to sign an extension, Holloway would face an interesting choice – bring back Gilks (arguably Pool’s best player this season) or keep faith in a keeper who has barely put a foot wrong since making his debut at Barnsley on Boxing Day.