NEWCASTLE United have made a last-ditch attempt to hijack Arouna Kone's proposed move to Everton, but the Wigan striker is still expected to rejoin his former boss, Roberto Martinez, at Goodison Park.
Wigan chairman Dave Whelan last night confirmed Newcastle had matched the £5m bid from Everton that triggered a release clause in Kone's contract earlier this month.
Magpies officials have been given permission to speak to Kone and his representatives, and discussions are understood to have taken place yesterday afternoon in an attempt to persuade the 29-year-old to move to St James' Park.
However, Everton have been in talks with Kone for the best part of a week, and a preliminary agreement has already been reached between the Ivory Coast international and the Merseyside club.
Having already missed out on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang this summer - the Gabon international's transfer from St Etienne to Borussia Dortmund was formally confirmed yesterday afternoon - Kone will become the second centre-forward to fall through Newcastle's grasp.
Indeed, given the extent to which Everton's pursuit of the Wigan striker has been trumpeted throughout the media, the Magpies' decision to leave it so late to declare their own hand appears especially ill advised.
Kone was identified as Martinez's leading summer target from the moment the former Wigan boss was installed as David Moyes' successor at Goodison Park.
The African scored 13 goals in all competitions last season despite Wigan's relegation to the Championship, and his release clause makes him one of the most attractive domestic propositions in this summer's transfer window.
Everton officials remain confident Kone will still complete a move to their club shortly, with Martinez even speaking publicly about his strengths and desirability yesterday.
"Everyone would understand that he brings something different to what we have at the football club at the moment," said Martinez. "Nothing has been confirmed with Arouna, but it has been made public that we have made an approach and we're still dealing with it.
"I followed Arouna for many years before we managed to work together and I thought his introduction into the Premier League was impressive.
"He will be a massive asset to the dressing room on the understanding that we have quite a few good strikers at the club already."
That hardly sounds like a man worried about the prospect of a major transfer target slipping through his grasp, and it is hard to see what Newcastle could offer that Everton could not unless Mike Ashley was to relax his strict budgetary constraints.
Everton are understood to be offering Kone around £30,000-a-week, and Ashley has previously ruled out spending such a sum on a new player, particularly if he is about to turn 30.
Nevertheless, Newcastle's interest underlines the extent to which their transfer policy has shifted since the arrival of Joe Kinnear as director of football.
Previously, the Magpies would not even have entertained the notion of signing a 29-year-old, even if the presence of a release clause meant they would have been able to offer a fee that was below the market rate.
With that in mind, they are expected to step up their interest in Darren Bent, although Aston Villa are still to receive a single formal offer for the England international even though Newcastle are one of a number of Premier League clubs to be interested in his services.
The Magpies were able to confirm one deal yesterday, with 16-year-old French midfielder Oliver Kemen joining from Metz.
Kemen, a France under-17 international, will move for a compensatory fee, and said: "Newcastle is a big team, and they look after young players. There are some good French speaking people there, so I can settle there fine on the guidance of everyone there."