MUCH-ADMIRED midfielder Tommy Miller last night admitted that Sunderland were winning the three-way battle to secure his services.

Miller's father, Tommy Snr, met with Black Cats boss Mick McCarthy last week to discuss his son's proposed move to the Stadium of Light.

The 26-year-old playmaker, who is out of contract at the end of this month, has already been offered a new two-year deal by his current employers, Ipswich Town.

And, yesterday, Miller's representatives met with Leeds United officials to discuss the possibility of a move to Elland Road.

While Sunderland are the only suitor able to offer Premiership football next season, Leeds chairman Ken Bates is understood to be willing to match the terms of Miller's current deal at Portman Road.

But, while the boyhood Black Cats fan insists he is yet to decide where he will be playing next term, he has admitted that Sunderland have both a personal and a professional appeal.

"My father represents me," said Miller, who scored 15 goals from midfield last season as Ipswich narrowly missed out on a top-two finish.

"He's been involved in the game a long time and has had talks with Sunderland. A move there does appeal to me.

"Sunderland are in the Premiership so there's the challenge of playing on that stage and, of course, it would mean a move back to the north where I come from.

"But there is also interest from other clubs and obviously I've had an offer of a new contract at Ipswich."

Shotton Colliery-born Miller had hoped to have his future sorted before his wedding in the North-East this weekend.

But, with three clubs vying for his attention, he is unlikely to reveal his decision before he returns from his honeymoon later this month.

"At this stage in my career, it's a big, big decision for me," said Miller. "I am contracted to Ipswich until the end of June so technically I can't move to another club before then anyway.

"I have got a lot of thinking to do and will bide my time before making a decision because it's such a key time in my career.

"I'm getting married at the weekend and then I'm away on honeymoon for a few weeks so I'll decide either when I get back or maybe while I'm away. It certainly won't be before I go."

McCarthy is continuing to make progress on a number of fronts and the former Republic of Ireland boss is expected to meet Blackburn striker Jon Stead later this week.

Rovers have given Sunderland permission to speak to the 22-year-old after the two clubs agreed a fee, believed to be £1.5m rising to £1.8m on appearances.

However, a second club - understood to be Charlton - have agreed a similar deal with Blackburn and are also lining up talks with the England Under-21 international.

Stead came close to making a £1.2m move to the Stadium of Light last February, but opted to move to Ewood Park in pursuit of Premiership football.

He scored six times in 13 appearances under Graeme Souness at the end of the 2003-04 campaign but struggled last season with just two goals in 34 games.

"There's no time scale in all of this because this has all come as a bit of a surprise," said Stead's agent, John Seasman. "Sunderland have been given permission to speak to Jon and he will be doing that soon.

"He had a chance of joining Sunderland when he first left Huddersfield, but Blackburn came in for him and it turned into a straight choice between the Championship and the Premiership.

"That's not the situation now and Jon is aware that Mick McCarthy has had a long-standing interest in him. Mick has always been a fan of Jon's and that will obviously have an impact on his decision.

"But there are other factors to consider as well. Sunderland are not the only club to have expressed an interest and Jon will now have to think long and hard about his future."

* Transfer-listed midfielder Sean Thornton has been axed from the Republic of Ireland's Under-21 squad after he missed last week's training camp ahead of Friday's European qualifier against Israel.

Thornton, who has been told he is surplus to requirements at the Stadium of Light, chose to go on holiday rather than joining up with his Irish team-mates at Lilleshall.

"Sean was asked to come but he did not show up," confirmed Republic of Ireland Under-21 coach Don Givens. "I got a call from his agent three days later to say that Sean had flown off somewhere for a holiday.

"With the greatest of respect to the agent, I don't think I should be talking to him. Sean should have been calling me. Sean is not in my squad for the Israeli game and I won't be contacting him to tell him why - I think he knows why. Sean needs to take a good look at himself in the mirror."

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