Blues to offer new deals to duo

BLUES stars Darren Bent and Matt Richards are to be offered improved contracts next month, writes Derek Davis.The news will be another massive boost for Town fans after a 1-0 victory over Stoke put them three points clear at the top of the Championship table ahead of Sunderland.

BLUES stars Darren Bent and Matt Richards are to be offered improved contracts next month, writes Derek Davis.

The news will be another massive boost for Town fans after a 1-0 victory over Stoke put them three points clear at the top of the Championship table ahead of Sunderland.

The Blacks Cats moved into the other automatic promotion place with a come-from-behind win at Nottingham Forest, while three defeats in a row for Wigan saw them slip a place. Joe Royle's side now have 52 points and are 10 ahead of sixth placed Millwall.

With promotion very much a real possibility Town are keen to hold on to their young stars and will fend off any approaches during the January transfer window.


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Although Bent and Richards have another 18 months left on their current contracts the club are keen to tie them to longer deals.

The offers follow closely on the heels of an improved contract handed to Ian Westlake earlier this month, keeping him at Portman Road until 2008.

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Other senior players, including Tommy Miller and Jim Magilton, are out of contract in the summer, while the EADT can reveal Shefki Kuqi has been given the option of a two-year extension if Town go up. But securing the young players, who have all graduated from the club's acclaimed Academy, is a priority.

Royle last night confirmed to the EADT: "We will be talking to both of them shortly.

"There is no rush with the older players but it is different with the younger lads."

Although Bent has made it clear on numerous occasions that he doesn't want to leave Town, and the club have insisted he is not for sale, it is widely believed a number of clubs will make a move for the England Under-21 striker in the next four weeks. There is also a growing concern that his form has suffered recently, due in part to the speculation.

Royle does not believe it is a crisis of confidence for Bent, who has hit 11 goals so far this season, including the winner against Wigan.

He said: "Darren's finishing is terrific in training and if you look at his goal record before the last couple of games it has been good.

"I might have given Dean Bowditch a chance in another game but I was always aware that Benty can win a defensive header and that was always going to be our biggest danger from corners and free-kicks against Stoke.

"He did his stint and almost scored what could have been the goal of the season with a few minutes to go.

"We will persevere with Darren. It is no big deal at the moment, he is not in his best form but he can be clinical and if he gets another one-on-one and just blasts it he will score and be fine again."

Miller revealed recently that he would be prepared to hold talks with other clubs in January, if he is not offered a new deal by Town soon. Sunderland are believed to be watching with interest and Premiership clubs have also been alerted to the midfielder's possible availability.

Royle also moved to quell worries that Premiership clubs were keen to attract Canadian captain Jason De Vos. He said: "We have had no clubs asking about Jason."

The Blues boss was in high spirits after his side worked extremely hard to see off a dogged, if uninspiring Stoke City, to extend their lead at the top.

Royle said: "We were terrific in the first half, although we were equally as good at Millwall and lost.

"The difference this time was that Kelvin Davis did not have a shot to save in 90 minutes. I take that as a massive plus for us. We defended properly and deserved to keep the clean sheet.

"Stoke are a big side, dangerous at free-kicks and corners. I called them the Land of the Giants earlier in the season and they haven't got any smaller. They do concede a lot of possession and there were never a lot of dramas for us.

"I'll take a 1-0 result any time. We play a passing game, perhaps too much so sometimes. It is right for us and right for the crowd here."

Royle also praised skipper Jim Magilton, who returned to the starting line-up in place of Kevin Horlock.

He said: "Jim is such a big influence on the squad. The hardest part of leaving Jim out is telling him in the first place and then trying to bring him off.

"He is so important and influential to us but he has to realise we need to nurse him through the season whether he likes it or not. Although most of the time it will be not."

There were no fresh injury concerns ahead of Saturday's home game with seventh-placed West Ham who were two-down at Rotherham yesterday before salvaging a draw.

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