Middlesbrough have fended off the threat of Gary O'Neil leaving next summer by exercising a two-year option on his deal.
The former Portsmouth midfielder would have been a free agent had Boro not decided to take up the option before the turn of the year.
O'Neil's three-year deal he signed upon joining the club was due to expire at the end of the season, although it had a two-year option as revealed by skysports.com.
Boro, whose Championship form has tailed off of late, have decided to retain O'Neil as they look to make an immediate Premier League return.
The Riverside outfit have lost the likes of Mark Viduka, Mark Schwarzer and Ross Turnbull on free transfers in recent years and were against losing O'Neil, who cost the club £4.5million in the summer of 2007.
"The club have decided to take up their option," he told the Evening Gazette.
"I thought they would because, otherwise, I would have been available on a free transfer at the end of the season."