TALENTED defender Nathan Clarke was "delighted" today to agree a one-year extension to his McAlpine contract.
It's a huge boost to manager Peter Jackson, who has already given new deals to David Mirfin, Anthony Lloyd, Andrew Holdsworth and Jon Worthington as he bids to get Town back in the play-off chase.
And the news on Clarke came with icing today because the 20-year-old has received only a one-match ban for his sending-off against Macclesfield.
He will sit out just the Bury home match on December 28 and is available for this weekend's clash with Oxford, the Boxing Day trip to Darlington and the 2004 kick-off against Doncaster at the Mac.
"I'm pleased to get things sorted because it's been a long, drawn out process and I'm delighted I can concentrate on doing my best for Town," said Clarke today.
"There is a great atmosphere at the club under Peter Jackson and Terry Yorath, they are determined to take the club forward and I want to be a part of that.
"Even though we are going through a bit of a lull at the moment and we need to get our away form going, we all believe there is a very bright future at the club and I'm sure we are going to be in the promotion shake-up at the end of this season."
Clarke, who has been with Town since he was nine and is a lifelong supporter of the club, is happy with his fitness after returning from 18 months of knee-injury nightmares.
He has missed just one of 13 matches since regaining his place in the starting line-up and manager Jackson explained: "It's great to have Nathan back to form and fitness and signing this deal.
"I actually wanted him to sign a two-year extension, but his representatives wanted a clause in the second year which I wasn't happy with, so we've settled on things to 2005.
"I am delighted, because this is a reward for him after 18 months of horrendous injury and illness problems and it means a fifth of our younger players has committed to a longer deal."
Jackson watched Clarke's progress when he was working as an agent and has always admired the qualities of the Academy product.
"He reads the game very well, he is quick and he is comfortable and composed on the ball," added the manager, whose squad have been training indoors because Storthes Hall is frozen.
"Clarkey has all the attributes for being an excellent central defender, he has been playing sweeper for us in our current formation and I believe he's been getting better and better.
"His performances on the training ground suggest he is getting stronger by the week, too.
"When he started out earlier in the season, he was in the last six of every run. Now he's in the first six the whole time and enjoying himself once again.
"The fact he has signed again - along with all the other young lads on the books - is a show of faith in what we are trying to do here and I don't think any of them would have put pen to paper if they didn't think we were going to get out of this division.
"Nathan is definitely someone who has the ability to play at the higher levels and that was reflected in the massive amount of interest there was from top Premiership clubs when he first broke through.
"He is more or less back to that sort of form now, he is a Town man through and through and I know he is very much looking forward to the rest of the season and the rest of his new contract.
"His brother Tom is coming through, too, and while he's still only 15 we've got very high hopes of him as well."