TOWN go into tonight's Carling Cup assignment at Reading with Sunderland showing £1m interest in star striker Jon Stead.
Sources at the Stadium of Light suggest Mick McCarthy is the first League manager to punt for the 20-year-old frontman, who has bagged 11 goals in 17 appearances this season.
Sunderland were not among scouts watching Town's 2-1 win against Carlisle, when Stead grabbed the winner, but they know all about him from his stunning goal against them in the last Carling round.
Reports suggest Sunderland are offering a £500,000 downpayment with another £500,000 to follow based on appearances, but that Town have rejected their initial bid.
Neither club would make official comment today and Town manager Peter Jackson refused to be deflected from preparations for tonight's third-round tie at the Madejski Stadium (8.00), when Stead will lead Town's bid to make it into tomorrow's fourth-round draw.
"I'm not going to comment on rumours like this before an important Cup-tie, it can wait until tomorrow," said Jackson today, from the team's M4 training base.
Fans will be hoping Town hold on to Stead for a Division III promotion push. Jackson has consistently said that while every player has a price, it would take a "huge, huge offer" to tempt them to part with the promising Academy product.
Most Premiership clubs have looked at Stead this season - including Arsenal and Manchester United - but they would be unable to bid until the transfer window opens in January, allowing First Division clubs like Sunderland to try and steal a march by testing Town's resolve with the prospect of immediate cash.
Town could land a lucrative Carling tie with victory tonight, of course, while the FA Cup trip to Accrington could be worth as much as £100,000 with TV coverage, ticket sales and prizemoney.
Town are currently in talks with the Conference side to try and get more than a proposed allocation of 393 tickets, as that does not match the FA stipulation of 15% of the total capacity at Accrington.
Stead himself has spoken of his desire to stay with Town and develop his game, well aware of top-line interest from elsewhere.
He will again partner Andy Booth, the last local product to go for big money, as Jackson's side look to claim a third Division I scalp in the competition after flooring Derby and Sunderland.
Jackson is backing the duo to outgun Nicky Forster and Shaun Goater in the first of four straight away games and he commented: "I'm delighted with the way Steady and Boothy are playing.
"They are both among the goals and they are working hard in all aspects of the game, which is a big help to the team, and the Reading centre-backs will know they've been in a game.
"Reading are strong and organised and the big threat is Forster with his pace, so we know we have to defend well tonight, but we also know there will be chances at the other end and it's up to us to take them better than we did on Saturday.
"No-one will give us a chance, but if we can keep it tight we are capable of creating another upset and the lads are feeling good and looking forward to the task."
Reading - (probable): Hahnemann, Newman, Williams, Ingimarsson, Shorey, Murray, Sidwell, Watson, Hughes, Goater, Forster. Subs (from): Harper, Solako, Ashdown, Tyson, Daley, Savage.
Town - (probable) - Gray, Carss, Holdsworth, Yates, Sodje, Clarke, Schofield, Fowler, Worthington, Booth, Stead. Subs (from): Senior, Holland, Mattis, Mirfin, Brown, Scott, Lloyd.
Referee - Dermot Gallagher (Banbury).