SUNDERLAND are set a land a central midfielder before the transfer window closes – either Liam Bridcutt OR Ever Banega, but not both.
And it emerged Connor Wickham could be the key to Gus Poyet getting the man he wants.
Poyet has already added three new players to his squad this January – on loan Fiorentina full-back Marcos Alonso, and Argentinian duo Oscar Ustari and Santiago Vergini.
Now he is closing in on a fourth – another Argentinian, Internacionale’s versatile attacker Ignaciio Scocco in a £4million deal.
And he plans more arrivals before the window closes with Bridcutt and Banega firmly on his radar.
But the Black Cats’ boss is looking to strengthen specifically, rather than recruit a job lot of players, and intends to bring in only one central midfielder before the transfer window closes in little more than 72 hours time.
His first choice is Bridcutt, who Poyet worked closely with in his time as Brighton boss, and he believes the 24-year-old would fit perfectly into the style of play he wants to develop at Sunderland.
A firm bid, in excess of £2million, has been made by Sunderland though that was rejected by Brighton.
Brighton are determined to get more than the money offered so far from Sunderland – pointing out that Poyet himself described Bridcutt as “a £5million player” during his time at the Amex Stadium.
However, there could be a compromise in the form of Wickham going out on loan to the south coast club as a makeweight in the deal.
Brighton are on the lookout for a striker to reinforce their options up front as they look to maintain a push for the play-offs.
And the Seagulls might be tempted to take Sunderland’s offer for the midfielder if it means getting a proven Championship finisher in Wickham as part of the deal.
The England Under-21 ace – scorer of eight goals in 12 league games during his time on loan at Sheffield Wednesday – could be loaned out to Brighton until the end of the season.
Wickham was recalled by Sunderland yesterday, two days before his loan at the Owls was due to end – and before he was due to play for them against Millwall tonight.
That indicates Poyet has a plan for the 20-year-old, and it could be that he is used as bait to tempt Brighton to sell Bridcutt.
The Wearsiders however are determined not to be held to ransom and have opened up inquiries on another front, over Valencia midfielder Banega.
The Argentine has two dozen international caps under his belt and the 25-year-old would not come cheap.
But he suffered several injuries while at the Spanish club and they may be tempted to cash in on a player they paid Boca Juniors somewhere in the region of £16 million for five and a half years ago.
The Argentine has been watched by a number of Premier League clubs but Sunderland are prepared to up their interest if no progress is made on the Bridcutt transfer.