BIrmingham City will take a hostile stance to any formal approach by West Bromwich Albion for manager Chris Hughton.
Hughton is the leading contender for The Hawthorns job after Roy Hodgson took up the reigns of the England team.
But Blues, who suffered Alex McLeish’s surprise defection to Aston Villa 11 months ago, will not allow their neighbours to simply swat them aside for Hughton’s services.
Sources in Hong Kong say Albion’s interest is annoying Carson Yeung and Peter Pannu.
“There has been no contact, as yet,” an insider close to the board stated.
“The club are continuing to work with Chris Hughton in planning for next season and any approach would not be welcome.”
Hughton signed a 12-month rolling contract when he took over from McLeish.
It is unclear whether there is a compensation clause, either way, as part of the agreement. But if Albion do get serious they will have to pay up, probably a figure in the region of £750,000-£1million.
Albion chairman Jeremy Peace drives a hard bargain, but he will also be well aware that Pannu is cut from the same cloth.
Pannu reacted angrily when McLeish resigned and demanded £5.4m in compensation, based mainly on the remaining years of his contract.
Pannu was quite prepared to take things all the way in court before Villa relented and agreed a fee for McLeish, assistant Peter Grant and club doctor Ian McGuinness.
So Albion need to be prepared for a scrap should Blues, as is likely, reject a request to speak to Hughton.
He was Pannu’s appointment as well; the acting chairman recommended him to Yeung and the BIHL board.
The Baggies do have other contenders in mind for the post, but Hughton is their top choice, and was made firm favourite by bookmakers over the past few days.
Hughton keeps his cards close to his chest and has not become embroiled in the issue, only saying he cannot comment on speculation, only fact.
There is no doubt he has connected with the club and the supporters. Indeed, it is doubtful whether any Blues manager has enjoyed such popularity and adulation in their first season as Hughton has.
And Hughton has told those close to him he is happy and enjoyed the challenge of turning the team into a competitive outfit this season, despite such tricky circumstances.
What could influence his mood is the financial state of play at St Andrew’s this summer.
Yeung and parent company BIHL are troubled financially and if Hughton is told more players have to go after Blues missed out on promotion to the Premier League – and there is no evidence to suggest that is the case at present – it would naturally deflate him.
The Championship looks, on paper, to be a stronger league next season.
And with a transfer embargo in place until BIHL publish their accounts, player recruitment is problematic.
Hughton has an excellent back up team around him in the dugout and at Wast Hills. And the players all hold him in high regard and would be disappointed if he left.
Blues gave him a break after his sacking by Newcastle United. Albion interviewed him after getting rid of Roberto di Matteo but opted for Hodgson instead.