TOWN boss Peter Jackson accepts there will be an upsurge in speculation over the future of star striker Jon Stead as the January transfer window approaches.
But he is backing the 20-year-old frontline ace - who will go in search of his 15th goal of the season at Macclesfield on Saturday - to remain fully focused on Town's Third Division promotion push.
Stead, a 6/1 shot with Coral to score the first goal at Moss Rose (Macclesfield's seven-goal joint top scorer Matthew Tipton is 5/1 favourite), is under contract until the end of next season.
But while Town turned down an £800,000 bid from First Division Sunderland back in October, they could find it hard to refuse if a Premier League or top Scottish club offers more during the month-long spell in which FIFA allows them to make signings.
Club supremo Ken Davy said earlier this month: "Speculation over Jon Stead seems to increase game by game and goal by goal.
"He is doing a great job and every supporter would be rightly disappointed to see him go.
"Equally I am sure most fans recognise his potential to be an outstanding player at the highest level and that, if the board received an offer that was appropriate, it would be quite wrong for any of us to stand in the way of his future."
Jackson today added: "I would say every Premiership club has watched Jon Stead this season, and there have been strong rumours that both Rangers and Celtic are interested.
"But so far only Sunderland have made an official approach, and that was rejected.
"I speak to Steady about the situation, and to be honest, it's sheer speculation. One week it's one club, the next it's another, and that will continue.
"At the moment, Jon Stead is in a blue and white shirt and long may it continue.
"When I was an 18-year-old coming through at Bradford City, there was speculation about a move and it affected my form.
"I've talked it through with Steady, and I'm delighted with the way he's handled things.
"There's a lot of pressure on him because he's been our main scorer so far, and he's being mentioned in every newspaper he picks up, but he's responded to being in the media spotlight very well and his form has been excellent.
"That's just one of the reasons Jon Stead will go on and become a very, very good player.
"He is a wanted commodity, but the way he has handled himself has been exceptional, and as long as he's a Town player, I'm confident his attention will be on us."
Contract talks with another of Town's talented youngsters, defender Nathan Clarke, are still ongoing, but Jackson doesn't believe that's a bad sign.
"Some players take a couple of weeks to sort things out, some take a month," said Jackson, who has offered a deal through to 2006.
"It's a very important decision for Nathan, and for him to want to take his time is understandable."