Targeted teenage goalkeeper Russ Howarth has agreed a three-year contract as dazzling evidence that York City's kids are all right.

Howarth's compelling start as City's number one has alerted Premiership eyes to the 17-year-old, who was still on Academy terms.

City have acted promptly offering the England Under-16 international a three-year-deal as reward for his mature displays.

In a further boost for City - and a knock-back to top clubs hovering over the youngster, including reported interest from treble-winners Manchester United - Howarth confirmed he was 'happy' to commit himself to the club to learn his trade.

Said Howarth: "It's a bit of a worry when you are negotiating, but I think three years gives the club some protection and for me it's great security.

"Now I can concentrate on getting the games in and learning to become a better 'keeper."

Howarth will again form City's last barrier at Barnet tomorrow, his emergence as a genuine prospect thrilling manager Neil Thompson.

"We know Russ is a big talent and he is going to get a lot of attention from bigger clubs. But we believe he will be better off here to get some games under his belt.

"We are not nave to think we can keep him here forever, but we've signed him on this three-year deal and he can progress to get some experience."

Thompson added he had been increasingly convinced the club's young braves were up to basement duty provided they were matched by the correct blend of know-how.

Ventured the City manager: "Just look at the side since the start of the season.

"We've had Lee Bullock and now Christian Fox. Then there's Martin Garratt, who's only 19 and Russ who's still 17.

"The kids are hungry. The more they play, the more they get a taste, the more they enjoy it.

"You've got to nurse them along and that's where your more experienced players come in."

England Under-18 trialist Fox, who made an impressive debut against Wigan in midweek, is expected to retain his place at Underhill, where Thompson envisaged a tough game on the notorious sloping pitch.

"I played there during my Scarborough days and Barnet will know best how to use the conditions. We will have to be aware of that," he said.

"We've also got to be more street-wise in that when we create chances we put the nail in the coffin and get some reward. Hopefully the goal Rodney Rowe scored against Wigan can be a goal for all of the team to gain confidence from."

Barnet are not short of belief. They are still one of seven teams unbeaten in the basement after a first-day 2-0 triumph at Chester City before drawing 2-2 at home to Exeter and 0-0 at Lincoln City last week.

In midweek the Bees staged their bravest performance. Trailing 2-0 from the first leg of their Worthington Cup encounter to Second Division Bournemouth they conceded two more goals in the opening 21 minutes.

But they staged a remarkable recovery. By half-time two goals from Scott McGleish levelled the score on the night and then a 63rd-minute strike from Warren Hackett set up a battling finale.

Only a late goal-line clearance by Cherries' skipper Ian Cox prevented battling Barnet taking the tie into extra time, the north London hosts ultimately bowing out 4-3 on aggregate.

Barnet have a doubt over first-choice 'keeper Lee Harrison. Injured at Lincoln he missed the midweek cup tie in which ex-Walsall 'keeper Danny Naisbitt made his debut.

l Buoyed by two successive wins York City Intermediates strike out for a hat-trick against Bradford City in the North-east Conference.

City plundered maximum hauls over Scarborough and Scunthorpe, but tomorrow's game will be the first of the season at the club's Wigginton Road training base, kick-off 11am.

City from Collinson, Thompson, Fielding, Keegan, Gowen, Hakami, Wood, Marshall, Darlow, Ormston, Whitfield, Emmerson, Russell, Rhodes, Salvati, Vasey.

Match points: Barnet v City

City lost on their first visit to Underhill 2-0 in October 1991 but have won on their two subsequent trips.

In March 1993 they triumphed 5-1 in Alan Little's first match in charge of the club. The scorers were Paul Barnes (3), Ian Blackstone and an own goal.

Their last visit was on April 30, 1994 when a 3-1 victory clinched a promotion play-off position for City in the Second Division. Scorers that day were Barnes and Blackstone (2) and the side lined up: Kiely McMillan, Hall, Swann, Tutill, Stancliffe, McCarthy, Blackstone, Barnes, Bushell, Canham

One player to have represented both clubs is Gary Bull.

Tomorrow's Teams

Division Three at Underhill

BARNET from Naisbitt, Stockley, Sawyers, Heald, Arber, Doolan, Charlery, Currie, Hackett, McGleish, Toms, Wilson, King, Strevens, Brown, Ansell.

YORK CITY from Howarth, Dawson, Hall, Atkins, Jones, Fairclough, Fox, Jordan, Conlon, J Williams, Garratt, Hocking, Mimms, Dixon, Rowe, Bullock, Rennison.

Ref: Fraser Stretton (Nottingham) Kick-off: 3pm

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