ROCHDALE are hoping increased interest in highlyrated defender Craig Dawson will force Middlesbrough in to matching their £1m valuation.

Boro have been on the trail of the 20-year-old all summer but have refused to increase their £400,000 offer for a player who has only played nonleague and League Two football.

Now Ipswich Town, who ironically are due to open their season at the Riverside Stadium on Saturday, and promotion hopefuls Burnley have made contact with Dale to discuss the player’s availability.

With three clubs now vying for Dawson’s signature, Rochdale hope there will be some progress, even though they would prefer to retain the player.

The Spotland club, due to face Hartlepool United this weekend, are well aware their promising centre-back would prefer to move on this summer to further his career.

And with a switch to the Championship on the horizon, Dawson would like a deal to be struck before Saturday.

Middlesbrough manager Gordon Strachan has identified Dawson as the man he wants to compete with Stephen McManus and David Wheater at the heart of the defence, with Matthew Bates and Seb Hines also hoping to be involved.

Now Strachan and chief executive Keith Lamb must decide whether to make an improved offer in the hope Rochdale will finally cave in to enable them to plan ahead for a season without him.

The former Celtic manager, also keen to add winger Craig Conway to his ranks, is keen to strengthen his defence before the transfer window shuts, with at least one new full-back also in his sights.

Strachan’s plans could be further complicated by news Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson is seriously considering following up an initial move for goalkeeper Brad Jones.

Hodgson, given a glowing report on the Aussie from his compatriot at Fulham Mark Schwarzer, was interested in taking him to Craven Cottage before moving to Anfield.

Now the Reds boss is still keen on taking the 28-year-old as a deputy to Pepe Reina, particularly given that Jones will help Liverpool when the new rules come in to force.

Despite being Australian, Jones qualifies as a homegrown player because he spent more than 36 months in England before his 21st birthday.

Middlesbrough are likely to want more than £1m for a goalkeeper who only signed a new contract half way through the 2008-09 season.

Strachan is an admirer of England youth prospect Jason Steele, but he would be keen to bring in another goalkeeper if Jones was sold.

It promises to be a busy few weeks after Saturday’s opener with Ipswich, with talks still ongoing aimed at offloading Mido, Didier Digard and Marvin Emnes.

Mido and his representatives have held further discussions with Boro aimed at reaching an agreement over the cash the striker feels he is due if he was moved on, with a year still on his contract.

Ajax are still in the hunt for his signature, although it has emerged that Turkish club Buraspor are currently in pole position to conclude a deal.

The sale of Digard, meanwhile, edged a step closer yesterday when Nice confirmed they have made a new offer for his services.

Nice’s general manager Patrick Governatori said: “Our first offer has been refused, but we have just sent a new one.”