Newcastle United manager Steve Bruce has dismissed suggestions he is not playing midfielder Matty Longstaff because he has not signed a new contract.
The 20-year-old, who burst on to the scene in October with the winning goal on his Premier League debut against Manchester United, will be out of contract at the end of the season.
He has been offered a new deal at St James' Park, but has played just 35 minutes as a substitute since the return from lockdown, prompting claims the ongoing wrangle is at the heart of his exclusion.
However, Bruce, who played defender Fabian Schar in central midfield at Watford on Saturday, said: "I played Fabian Schar because of his physicality. That's why I've played Fab in there. He's played in that position for his country who are eighth in the world.
"This debate that I'm not putting Matty in the team simply because of his contract, it's not true.
"We'd all like Matty to stay and get things resolved, but the ball is in his court. But I'm certainly not picking a team with that in mind. I picked a team at Watford I thought could win the game."
Bruce, whose side faces Tottenham at St James on Wednesday evening, drafted academy graduate Longstaff into the first-team picture alongside older brother Sean during the club's pre-season trip to China and is keen to retain his services.
He said: "I gave the kid his debut. He had a thigh injury, unfortunately, when he came back from lockdown, which was a pretty severe one. I've treated him the way it should be.
"We've made him a huge offer, it's up to the boy to commit himself. I'm not not picking him because he hasn't signed a contract. We think a lot of Matty, and the ball is in his court."
- TEAMtalk media