MANAGER Peter Jackson spoke for the first time today about why Town have turned down an £800,000 package bid for Jon Stead.
Sunderland are believed to have tabled an offer for the 20-year-old leading marskman, but in the wake of last night's 1-0 Carling Cup exit at Reading, Jackson would not reveal the interested party.
The McAlpine chief would only confirm the bidding club were in a higher division than Town and that their offer for the 11-goal frontman had been rejected by owner Ken Davy and the club board.
"We have turned down a bid of £500,000 plus another £300,000 in incentives because we don't feel it is sufficient," said Jackson today.
"I have said right from the outset that I believe Jonathan Stead is the best young striker outside the Premiership.
"He works extremely hard and you only have to watch him to realise we have a special player on our hands.
"We are determined to keep him here, which is why a Third Division club can turn down this sort of money, and whether the club concerned will come back with another offer I've really no idea.
"What I do know is that Jon enjoys playing his football here, he is happy to stay with the club and he's got two more years on his contract - so I've just told him to carry on playing as he is and the rest of his career will look after itself."
Jackson discussed the transfer speculation with his top striker in the early hours of this morning, on the way back from the Madejski Stadium where Stead played in a withdrawn wide-right role and Nicky Forster grabbed Reading's 80th-minute winner to book a place in tonight's fourth round draw.
"Jonathan knows he has to perform consistently well week in and week out, he won't let this speculation affect him and I've told him that if he carries on the way he is going, he can go to the very top," added Jackson.
The manager would not be drawn on the size of fee which would tempt Town to part with a player who is a leading influence in their chances of gaining promotion this season.
"Jonathan will be leading our attack at Scunthorpe on Saturday and for the forseeable future as far as we know, and I'm absolutely delighted about that," he added.
Stead, it seems, will be happy to do the business for his hometown club until Town decide they are prepared to let him go, and he had little to say on the matter.
"I was aware of the speculation before last night's match and while it was a bit confusing because no-one mentioned it, it didn't affect me at all," he said.
"It was just good to be put in the picture by the manager and to know what is happening."
Town have been stretched for strike cover all season and they are even worse off now because Jon Newby is facing knee surgery.
The summer signing from Bury had a scan last week which has revealed some damage, so he is due to go into hospital on Monday and be out for six to seven weeks.
"It's unfortunate for Jon and we are thin for cover in the striking department," said Jackson, who must plan for Saturday without the suspended Jon Worthington.
"You always have ideas about who you might bring in should the need arise through injuries or whatever, but it's not something I'm contemplating at the moment."
On the Cup display, Jackson added: "I thought we did well and I'm proud of the way the lads went about the game, their workrate and their attitude.
"It came down to one slip in concentration to settle the game and, had we scored through Steve Yates at the start of the second half, I think we would have gone on to win the tie.
"Our fans were brilliant once again and we are only sorry that we didn't give them a lot more to cheer, but hopefully we can put that right at Scunthorpe on Saturday and get three precious away points."
Jackson was watching his Reserves in action against Tranmere at the McAlpine today.