SUNDERLAND’S bid to bring former Middlesbrough striker Danny Graham back to the North-East took a significant step forward last night.
Graham's advisors are believed to have outlined the player's preference to leave the Liberty Stadium even though Swansea City insist he has not handed in a transfer request.
Earlier in the day Black Cats boss Martin O’Neill described his confidence that he would be able to boost his options in attack before this Thursday’s transfer deadline despite Swansea’s claims Graham is still wanted at the Liberty Stadium.
But the Gateshead-born striker's camp is believed to be making moves to push through the deal for personal reasons - with Sunderland ready to match the Swans’ £5.5m valuation.
Graham now faces the unusual situation of actually being involved for Swansea against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light tonight.
Swansea manager Michael Laudrup has included the 27-year-old in his squad for the trip to Wearside, where he could be on the bench having failed to start a Premier League fixture since January 1.
That outing against Aston Villa was also when Graham scored his last league goal for Swansea, who have been knocked back in their attempts to replace him so far with Stoke’s former Sunderland striker Kenwyne Jones.
O’Neill and Laudrup will discuss the situation further tonight, with Sunderland hoping to finalise the deal in the next 72 hours after becoming striker light this month.
Swansea’s Danish boss said: “I can only say Danny is a player who is here and we want him to stay - we don't want change. Of course I can understand if he wants to play regularly, but there are nine or ten others like him in our squad.
“Even if a player says he wants to leave, then it's still down to the clubs involved to agree a fee. I don't want players who are unhappy or have a good chance to go somewhere else, but there's still the economic part.”
And Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins stated last night that "at the moment there was no substance whatsoever" to claims Graham had requested to leave.
Sunderland initially had a £4m offer rejected for Graham, just hours before Norwich offered £1m more. The Canaries are now trying to agree a deal with Celtic for Gary Hooper instead, although they have not matched the player’s £10m valuation so far.
O’Neill has also shown an interest in Hooper, but not at that price. Having allowed Fraizer Campbell, Ji Dong-Won and Louis Saha to leave this month, a new striker is essential before Thursday’s 11pm deadline.
James McFadden’s contract expired last week and young striker Ryan Noble will be allowed to move to Hearts on loan if they can move a player on first to adhere to a transfer embargo placed on them.
That would leave O’Neill with just Steven Fletcher and Connor Wickham as recognised strikers for the remaining four months of the season, with the versatile Stephane Sessegnon the only attacking alternative.
O’Neill said: “If it (a new striker) didn't materialise I'd be somewhat disappointed, I'd be worried because if anything happened to (Steven) Fletcher it could cause us a problem.”
He added: “We had a number of problems with players being injured - Wes Brown at centre-half - so I looked at that. We've taken on big (Kader) Mangane and he's getting fitter each day. In terms of trying to get a bit more forward power, I think it's fair to say that is what we'll be looking at.”
Despite the lack of options in attack ahead of tonight’s visit of Swansea, O’Neill has defended the decision to allow Ji to join German club Augsburg, Campbell to move to Cardiff for £600,000 and to release Saha.
O’Neill said: “Saha I explained before, Ji wanted to play some games, he was getting less time here. That was in the offing for some considerable time, so it didn't appear overnight on New Year's Eve. I'm hoping that experience in the Bundesliga will stand him in good stead.
“Fraizer, really, I didn't want somebody leaving until we had someone in but the news had broken and it was going to be hard to keep the player. This is what he wanted to do.”
Mangane has received international clearance and could be included in the squad tonight following his loan move from Saudi Arabian club Al-Hilal. Sunderland remain without Danny Rose, Carlos Cuellar (both hamstring) and skipper Lee Cattermole, who has had an injection in his troubled knee.
After winning five of their last eight Premier League games a sixth victory would lift Sunderland in to the top ten tonight. The nine-point gap back to the relegation zone, however, is still a concern to O’Neill.
The Sunderland boss: “I don't do relaxed. We have won a couple of games. We still have to concern ourselves - it sounds rather cautious but these next two or three matches including Arsenal will be very important for us but we go into the games with confidence now which is a major thing.”
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