BARNSLEY captain Alex Mowatt is ‘holding off’ on signing a new contract until the summer – but staying at Oakwell is his ‘number one option’ insists chief executive Dane Murphy.

The much-admired midfielder’s contract expires at the end of the season, with the Reds offering him a new deal last month.

Mowatt has been a regular presence in central midfield for the last three seasons, playing 141 games and scoring 16 goals since signing from Leeds United four years ago.

Murphy told the Chronicle: “It’s well-documented we have spoken to Alex and his representatives multiple times.

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“We offered him a new contract in the January transfer window and he’s held off on that for now.

“But he’s made it clear to Valerien (Ismael, head coach) and to the club through his representative that Barnsley is the number one option for him. He just bought a house close to Barnsley. It’s where he’s comfortable.

“He has to evaluate what is the best next step for him and we will continue to work with him to try to make sure that is us.

“It’s important for us to show him, and we have done this in giving him good offers, that the club wants to progress and take the next step.

“We will make the best offer we possibly can within our parameters.

“We have special players who are at the higher end of our wage scale and we want to do our best to retain them.

“If we can’t, then we move on and try to figure out the best next step for the club.

“But I don’t think it’s just about money for Alex, there are many variables.”

The Reds rejected a bid for Mowatt in the January transfer window.

Top-scorer Cauley Woodrow and 20-year-old Callum Styles are also thought to be of interest to other clubs, along with centre-back Mads Andersen.

As he looked ahead to tomorrow’s visit of Championship rivals Derby County, Ismael revealed a deadline-day bid for a ‘key’ Reds player had been rejected, adding: “I’m very pleased it didn’t happen.”

Murphy said: “We had an initial bid in for Alex and it was deemed by the club that it was not a good enough offer for what he brings to the team. Alex also made it clear he would rather stay.

“There were other calls for other players but no offers, just taking the temperature and asking what we were looking for.

“People called about Michal Helik, Mads Andersen, Callum Styles, Cauley Woodrow, but they never really asked us to dance, so to speak. It was ‘what is their situation?’ and ‘are they happy?’ then it was always ‘okay, we may call you back’.

“The summer will be a different animal. Hopefully we have more stability in all our lives, and football can also return to normal.

“It may become more difficult to keep players, especially if we have a successful second half of the season.

“Obviously our players are being monitored and will continue to be so. But we will make the best decision for the club and for the future success of our team.”

The Reds brought in striker Carlton Morris from Norwich City and centre-back Liam Kitching from Forest Green Rovers in the first week of the window then recruited American international striker Daryl Dike on loan from Orlando City on deadline day on Monday.

The Reds did not extend midfielder Matty James’ loan from Leicester City – he sinced joined Championship rivals Coventry City on loan – with Ismael backing the likes of Herbie Kane and Romal Palmer to play more regularly.

Patrick Schmidt could still be loaned or sold back to a club in his native Austria, where the transfer window does not shut until Monday. The striker has played just 27 minutes in two substitute appearances across Barnsley’s last 19 matches.