Saints have offered professional contracts to two of their most promising third-year scholars.

Left midfielder Ryan Ashford and right-back Chris Baird have both been given 18-month deals to take them up to June, 2002.

The club have deferred a decision on goalkeeper Alan Blayney and midfielder Matt Huxley until the end of the season, and they are also still undecided on striker Adam Wallace.

He has been out for the past two months following a hernia operation but is now back in full training and will be given a run of games to press his claims.

Centre-back Steve Gray has already been signed as a professional, but the remaining four third-years at the Academy are being released.

The club are letting go Mark Graham, who has returned home to Australia, and midfielder Steve Grimshaw, who is taking a break. Defender Matt Davies has gone on trial at Southend with another former Saints trainee Danny Webb, while midfielder Ben Madgwick is hoping to get fixed up at Cardiff.

Huw Jennings, education officer at The Dell, said: "It is always hard telling boys they won't be offered a professional contract but we do our best to look after them afterwards.

"We try to help them find another club or advise them of their various options if they decide not to stay in football.

"We are very aware of the need to look after all our scholars, even those we are not signing as professionals, which is why we have told them now.

"We could have kept them hanging on until the end of the season but that would not have been fair and would have left them less time to get fixed up elsewhere so we have cancelled their scholarships by mutual consent."