BATTLE hardened defender Ian Hughes has given some sound advice to his young McAlpine colleagues.

The 29-year-old centre-back was a promotion winner with both Bury and Blackpool before coming to join a new Town squad last summer.

And he has urged manager Peter Jackson's side - the predominantly young squad who have done so well - to make the most of this brilliant opportunity to go up.

"The gaffer and Taff have been drumming it into all the players that we just need one last little push and the prize is there for us," said Hughes, who is itching to get back in the side for manager Jackson and coach Terry Yorath.

"Considering the run we have had and the way we are playing - Monday at Kidderminster was just one of those things - I don't see any reason why we can't get promotion.

"I have been telling all the young lads to make the most of this time, because these are the things you cherish.

"I've had it twice with Bury and Blackpool, but promotions don't come along all that often and you have to take the chance when it's there.

"We all know how quickly things can turn sour and go the other way, so when you've got a promotion place to fight for it's got to be no holds barred on the pitch and enjoy every minute of it."

Bury-based Hughes, who had six years each at Gigg Lane and Bloomfield Road, would love to extend his McAlpine contract beyond the next few months and, hopefully, play a role in the Second Division next term.

A regular in the starting line-up at the start of the season, he has had two lengthy spells out culminating with knee surgery.

He is just getting over that operation by playing matches in the Reserves and he is ready to do senior battle for Jackson whenever the call comes.

"I've had 15 games and I've enjoyed every one of them," he explained.

"I felt really unfortunate to get injured - it was the result of a tackle against Cheltenham in November - and I've still got to be careful to ice the knee when I've played, because it will continue to swell as the healing process goes on while I'm recovering full fitness in matches.

"I feel I'm there now and I'm raring to go, but you can't knock the young lads because they have gone into the side and done fantastically well.

"While you always want to play yourself, it's been great to see the youngsters go in and they've been absolutely brilliant.

"I've been in a couple of squads recently, travelling to Orient and Kidderminster, and even though I've not been back on the bench so far, it's just great to be involved with the lads again in the dressing room, helping them along and giving them encouragement."

So what will happen come the end of the season with his contract?

"I'm just getting myself right back to full fitness, hoping to be involved with the first team in the run-in and we'll take it from there," he said.

"I'm not the only one in this position and everyone wants to know what is going to happen in the future.

"It's difficult, but the most important thing is that we pick up enough points in the division to get promoted.

"After that priority, from a personal point of view I want to make sure I'm completely fit and then we'll see about the prospects for next season.

"As a club, I'm sure we can do well in the Second Division, especially with so many young lads gaining experience this time around.

"We've certainly got the potential to take this further and it would be great to be involved if possible."

Hughes missed the trip to Northampton in March which was abandoned (Town were losing when advertising hoardings blew from the Sixfields roof) but hopes he might be on the bench on Tuesday (7.45).

"It's a different game," he said. "Forget what happened last time, this is another test against a team coming strong for the play-offs.

"I fancy them to claim a top seven place, but that doesn't mean we can't go down there and come back with the points. As long as we play like we can, we will be fine."

ACADEMY players will be to the fore once again when Town Reserves head for Tranmere on Monday.

Boss Peter Jackson will risk "very few" of his first-team squad because the vital Third Division trip to Northampton is just 24 hours later.

It's a 2.00 kick-off at Prenton Park, when Town will be looking to move into the top half of the table with a seventh win of the season.

FUN and games for Town's two Travel Club coaches to Kidderminster. They were intercepted by a police escort - and taken to Molineux!

The constabulary thought they were Bolton fans going to Wolves, but at least the detour got them to Aggborough on time!