MIDDLESBROUGH were pressing ahead on three transfer fronts last night, with Aitor Karanka hopeful at least one deal can be struck before tonight’s deadline.
Discussions with Wolves for Kevin Doyle and Hull City for Danny Graham continued throughout yesterday, while it also emerged that Karanka had been receptive to the idea of signing West Brom midfielder Graham Dorrans.
There were no guarantees on any of the deals last night, although it is hoped that something will have been agreed in time to boost Karanka’s squad for the final few months of the campaign.
Middlesbrough’s Spanish boss is also wanting a deadline day deal with Aston Villa which will see goalkeeper Shay Given stay at the Riverside for the rest of the campaign. Given’s existing emergency loan deal is due to expire on February 28 and it can’t be extended.
Karanka said: “We are working very, very hard to keep Shay here. Shay’s thoughts are the same thoughts I have. For him, he would like to be here for a long time. I don’t know what the problems are. We are trying to keep him here.”
Given’s performances between the posts have coincided with Middlesbrough’s improved form, but Karanka has made no secret of his plans to strengthen his attacking options.
Phone calls were made throughout yesterday and are expected to carry on up until the final hours of the transfer window. Despite having a number of targets throughout his reign, Doyle and Graham are the two likeliest attacking arrivals.
Doyle, who has been the subject of strong loan interest from Ipswich, is on his way out of Wolves, where his reputed £40,000-a-week wage has caused problems for the League One club.
Graham’s situation is complicated by the fact he is on loan at Hull City from Sunderland. The Black Cats are happy for the 28-year-old to have his season-long loan terminated, provided that it does not cost the Wearside club financially.
Graham, a former academy graduate at the Teesside club, almost returned to Middlesbrough in the summer of 2012 when Sunderland agreed to pay £5m to Swansea City to bring the forward back to the North-East.
But the Gateshead-born striker is being courted by Nottingham Forest and a switch to the City Ground was just as likely last night.
There is a lot more work to be done if Middlesbrough are to broker a deal for West Brom’s creative midfielder Dorrans, 26.
A striker, though, is Karanka's priority.
Karanka said: “We will be working until the last seconds to get something done. I have always said I am happy with my squad, but we want to add another player.
“I can’t sit here and lie about what position we need to fill because everybody knows what the problem is in the team. We need to score goals and we are not scoring at this moment.
“We are working hard on this position. I hope we can get a striker. I trust my group who are working on these things. Hopefully we will have one striker in.”
He added: “I know Danny (Graham) because he is a player who played here at the academy and the first team a few times. But I don’t want to speak about individual players.
“We are working on several names. It is one striker we want. If two or three arrive then that is better for me!”
In the last few weeks Middlesbrough have considered a variety of options. Graham and Doyle have been high in the club’s thinking along with Genk’s Jelle Vossen, Reading’s Adam Le Fondre and Norwich’s Luciano Becchio.
The interest in Wickham, who recently returned from a loan at Sheffield Wednesday, is also intriguing. Sunderland are willing to allow him to go out on loan again after signing Ignacio Scocco.
But Karanka, who agreed to have the contract of Belgian Faris Haroun terminated last night amid interest from Blackpool, wants to retain his best players today.
Both Brighton and Nottingham Forest have been told to forget about signing Mustapha Carayol and Grant Leadbitter, respectively.
Karanka said: “At this moment I don’t think there will be any players leaving. Grant and Mustapha are not going out. I want to keep them.”
It had looked earlier in the week that Rhys Williams could have been sold to increase Middlesbrough’s spending power. Then the 25-year-old ruptured his Achilles in the goalless draw with Wigan.
It was confirmed yesterday that Aussie Williams, 25, will miss the rest of the season because he needs an operation.
Karanka said: “I have spoken to him and I think he will come back more mature and stronger. He knows he has my support, the team’s support, the club’s support and that is important for him.
“When I first arrived he was playing at right-back and I knew that was not his best position. Rhys played 100 per cent after I spoke to him and when he does he is a very good player. I was speaking with the doctors and I think it will pre-season before we see him.”