JOSH Ruffels was thrilled to sign a lengthy new contract at Oxford United after admitting his first season at the club had exceeded expectations.

The 20-year-old, who was due to become a free agent this summer, put pen to paper yesterday on an agreement, which could keep him at the club until 2018.

It is made up of a two-year deal, followed by an optional 24-month extension held by the club.

Ruffels, who had time in their youth set-up before spending a decade at Coventry City, has been the biggest success to come out of United’s first season with a development squad.

The midfielder, from Kidlington, quickly progressed to the senior set-up and has made 31 appearances so far, scoring once.

He is in line to start for the eighth successive game this afternoon, when the U’s host York City, and was delighted to secure new terms.

“I’ve loved being back at Oxford,” he said. “The whole club is so positive and I look forward to coming in to training every day.

“I was looking to get a few first-team games, but the way things have worked out, I have played a lot more than I expected and my game has developed much further.

“I am very happy to be part of what the club is trying to build and hopefully we can finish with one last push into the play-off places.”

The news came as a surprise, with head coach Gary Waddock saying last month all contract talks would be put on hold until the end of the season.

It was done so he could assess the whole squad, but Ruffels, who had begun talks earlier in the spring, has wasted no time in making an impact.

Waddock said: “I’m a firm believer in giving good young players a chance and I think the fans really get behind them, particularly if they are local lads.

“Josh has played every game for me so far and done really well this season.

“He works hard at his game and has a very bright future ahead – I’m delighted that his future will be at Oxford United.”

Bringing through young, local players who can form the core of the first-team squad is a key part of the club’s plans.

Ruffels’s contract follows a long-term deal with youth graduate Josh Ashby in February.

U’s chairman Ian Lenagan said: “This signing, following that of Josh Ashby, shows clearly our long-term determination to invest in and build a strong future of talented young players.”