Black Cats' Butler hope

SUNDERLAND have not given up hope of keeping hold of winger Thomas Butler, who is now out of contract.

The tricky Republic of Ireland Under-21 international's deal at the Stadium of Light expired on Monday - and West Ham United are said to be interested.

Butler made his full Premiership debut for the Black Cats at Charlton Athletic in April and impressed in the thrilling 2-2 draw, setting up Kevin Kilbane with a fine pass for Sunderland's first goal.

The 21-year-old then started his first match at the Stadium of Light in the final game of the season against Derby County, and again did well.

But Butler had been frustrated up to that point at the lack of first-team opportunities and has rejected the offers Sunderland have made so far.

But a Black Cats spokesperson told the Echo today: "The club are still hopeful of securing the services of Thomas Butler, despite him being out of contract.

"Thomas's contract ran out on July 1 and he has already been offered vastly improved terms by the club, but has turned down a number of improved offers.

"We are now waiting to find out whether their latest contract offer will be accepted.

"Sunderland AFC would be entitled to and would seek compensation should the player leave for another club."

Butler's path into the team was blocked for a long time by manager Peter Reid's selection of Kevin Kilbane, Jason McAteer, Julio Arca and, at one stage, Michael Gray to fill the wing positions.

But with Irish international Kilbane being linked with a move away from Wearside, more opportunities could arise for Butler, who is right-footed but has been preferred by Reid on the left.