Kuqi looks for promotion - and new deal

SHEFKI Kuqi, the most improved player in the land according to his manager, will stay with Ipswich for another two years if they win promotion this season, writes Derek Davis.

SHEFKI Kuqi, the most improved player in the land according to his manager, will stay with Ipswich for another two years if they win promotion this season, writes Derek Davis.

The Finn is enjoying a fabulous season at Portman Road and weighed in with his 12th goal so far this campaign to keep Town top of the table with victory over Stoke City. But the 28-year-old will be out of contract in the summer unless Town go up.

Last night he revealed to the EADT that he has a clause built into that deal that if Town reach the Premiership in May he has the option of a two-year extension.

Kuqi said: "If we go up I can stay for another two years and that is what I'm looking to do."

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The Finn was told he could leave on a free transfer last summer but manager Joe Royle has had a huge change of heart since then, and praised Kuqi's contribution to the team.

Royle said: "I cannot think of a more improved player in the division and possibly in the English game. It is a confidence thing with Shefki and at present his confidence is sky high."

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Kuqi was delighted that his goal proved decisive but felt the Blues could have wrapped the game up much earlier. He said: "One goal was enough to give us the points and everyone was happy. The first half was better but overall in the 90 minutes we played well and defended superbly to not give them any chances.

"We could have wrapped the game up in the first half but really we were never worried that we would lose it.

"We had the crowd behind us and we have a very good record at home."

His third goal in four games nudges him ahead of strike partner Darren Bent, who has looked below par recently, although Kuqi backs him to come out of his slump.

Kuqi added: "Darren might have scored one or two but it wasn't his day.

"He had a great strike in the second half from which the keeper made a fantastic save. On other days those chances would have gone in. As long as he keeps getting those chances the goals will come. There is not competition between us to score more than the other. As long as we are scoring that gives the lads behind us confidence as well. The main thing is we keep getting the three points and who scores doesn't matter as much."

The former Stockport County and Sheffield Wednesday star is on course to beat last season's tally of 18 goals, 13 for Town, five for the Owls.

He said: "I had a good season last year and I know myself. I knew I could get more goals playing in a great side like Ipswich with the lads I gave around me."

And the hard-working Blues forward, who has featured in every Town game this season, insisted he was ready for another two games in three days with the West Ham and Plymouth matches approaching.

He said: "I'm feeling quite strong and fresh. With so many games in a short time it is important to look after yourself with plenty or rest, eat all the right foods and drink plenty of water."

The Finn revealed to the EADT yesterday that he would worry about any call-up for national service when the time comes, perhaps in two years' time.

The two-year extension to Kuqi's contract will allay Town fan's fears of any impending departure of a player who has won the hearts of the supporters and is hugely popular in the dressing room.

Kuqi signed from Sheffield Wednesday on the recommendation of assistant manager Willie Donachie, who knew the player from his days coaching at Hillsborough. If Town do win promotion it will cost them £150,000 in a clause agreed with Wednesday, who allowed him to join Town, initially on a free transfer following a month-long loan period.

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