LEE Clark is ready for a summer battle to keep hold of star striker James Vaughan after the in-form front man fired Bury five points clear of the League One drop zone.

The former Everton man netted twice, either side of a George Miller strike, as the Shakers comfortably saw off Northampton Town 3-0 at Gigg Lane on Saturday.

The brace took Vaughan’s tally up to 24 goals for the season, second in the division behind Sheffield United’s Billy Sharp, who tops the goalscoring charts with 29.

But with only one year left on his contract, Clark is worried he will have a fight on his hands to keep hold of the 28-year summer signing.

“We are going to have to keep him under lock and key,” Clark said. “He can come and stay with me over the summer, bring his family.

“Let’s not beat around the bush, it’s going to be one hell of a fight to keep him.

“I’m going to give everything I can, along with the chairman, to make sure we have him come the start of next season.

“Any successful team needs a striker who is going to score goals and God only knows where we would be in the league table if we didn’t have him.

“It’s not only the goals, I love his work ethic. He works extremely hard off the ball for the team and he is a credit to himself.”

Bury ended a run of four matches without a win to build on a hard-earned point at Bolton in midweek after three straight defeats had put them back in the thick of the relegation dogfight.

Vaughan gave the Shakers the perfect start, latching on to a long kick upfield from goalkeeper Joe Murphy to tuck in the opening goal after only three minutes.

There was a nervy wait for a second goal, which game in the 72nd minute from substitute Miller, who had only been on the pitch for seven minutes when he followed in to head home from close range after Cameron Burgess’ header had crashed back off the crossbar.

Vaughan netted a third goal deep into stoppage time, underlining the victory with a thunderous drive that lifted Bury up to 19th in the table.

Clark believes the goalless draw at Bolton in midweek was key to the victory.

“I think Tuesday’s performance gave us the platform," he said. "It was important at the Macron that we got ourselves back into order.

“The good thing on Saturday was that we made chances and scored three goals.

“We got both ends of it right. We got another clean sheet and it’s an outstanding defensive record we have in terms of seven clean sheets in 13 games.

“When you have the players we have at the top end of the field we just felt in the last few games we hadn’t created enough opportunities.”

Clark adopted a new 5-2-3 formation, playing veteran striker Ryan Lowe in a number 10 role behind a strike pairing of Tom Pope and Vaughan.

The Shakers looked more dangerous in attack than they had done in recent matches, but also maintained their defensive balance.

With Lowe at the heart of everything, the Bury boss praised the 38-year-old's tireless performance.

“It might have given everyone a boost when they saw us with three strikers on the pitch,” Clark said.

“I’m not too sure about (Ryan) Lowey moaning about cramp with five minutes to go, but I’ll give him that because he’s probably older than me anyway.”

Former skipper Nathan Cameron returned to action following an eight-month lay-off with a knee injury.

The centre-back was given the largest applause of the afternoon when he came on to replace James Vaughan in an unorthodox forward role, with only seconds of the match remaining.

Clark said: “He has been working really hard. He has had some set backs. I’ve been there myself, I’ve experienced those long days in the gym when you can't see the light at the end of the tunnel. So it was terrific to get him out there and it showed us he has another string to his bow playing up front.

“It gives us a bit of food for thought in the coming weeks and certainly next season.”

Match ratings

Bury (5-2-3): Murphy 7; Moore 7, Barnett 7, Kay 7, C Burgess 8, Leigh 7; Caddis 7, Tutte 7; Pope 7 (Miller 65, 7), Lowe 8 (S Burgess 85, 6), Vaughan 8 (Cameron 90+5, 6). Subs not used: Williams, Hulme, Mackreth, Walker.

Northampton Town (4-4-2): Smith; Moloney (Beautyman 80), Diamond, Nyatanga, Phillips; Eardley (McDonald 45, 5), McWilliams, Taylor, P Anderson; Richards, Revell 5 (K Anderson 64). Subs not used: Smith, Boateng, McCourt, Iaciofano.

Referee: Nigel Miller (County Durham).

Attendance: 5,190 (772 visiting).