MIDDLESBROUGH'S bid to take Celtic defender Bobo Balde to Teesside could hinge on Slovakian forward Szilard Nemeth heading in the opposite direction.

Boro boss Steve McClaren has put plans in place to secure the services of Balde and the Scottish Premier League champions are resigned to losing the player's services before the closure of the transfer window early next week.

The Guinean international is out of contract at Celtic Park in the summer and the Hoops would prefer to offload the player now for a cut-price deal rather than lose him for nothing at the end of his deal.

But Middlesbrough's desperation for a new defender - highlighted by conceding four goals at struggling Norwich City on Saturday - is believed to have encouraged Celtic to consider a swap deal involving reservist Nemeth.

The striker is Middlesbrough's most used substitute of all time having come off the bench on 49 occasions in the league since joining from Inter Bratislava in 2001.

Celtic manager Martin O'Neill is known to have monitored the player's situation last summer, along with Joseph Job, when Juninho completed a similar switch north of the border.

And it appears that O'Neill, who was at Chelsea earlier this month to witness Nemeth's part in Middlesbrough's 2-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge, is hoping to bolster his forward ranks once again.

Following the departure of Henrik Larsson to Barcelona last August, Henri Camara has failed to reach the heights expected of him and Celtic have had to rely heavily on Chris Sutton and John Hartson.

That is why sources in Scotland believe O'Neill, with little money to spend, is looking at the possibility of brokering a swap deal including Balde and Nemeth.

That could prove the key to a transfer taking place but Boro's hopes of landing Balde, who could cost as much as £1m otherwise, rest on fending off competition from other Premiership rivals.

Despite Manchester City appearing to drop out of the race yesterday, it has emerged that Everton and Fulham are now two clubs looking at bringing the player in.

Balde would welcome a move to the English top-flight and he was a target for Newcastle United in August after the sale of Jonathan Woodgate to Real Madrid.

However, Celtic coach Danny McGrain has urged the club to pull out all the stops to hold onto the centre-back.

He said: ''Bobo has been an important player in our defence. He has been terrific since he signed for us and he would be badly missed.

''A player of Bobo's ability, strength, keenness and his power in the air would be badly missed by anybody.''

McClaren, meanwhile, is expected to finalise a deal to bring Real Madrid midfielder Albert Celades to the North-East during Middlesbrough's stay in Spain.

The 29-year-old is relishing the prospect of a move to the Premiership after falling further down the pecking order under new manager Wanderley Luxembergo following the arrival of Everton's Thomas Gravesen.

Celades would provide Boro with much-needed cover in midfield after having to cope without both Gaizka Mendieta and George Boateng.

And Celades, also courted by Aston Villa and out of contract in the summer, said: "The coach wants more players to exit and specifically midfielders.

"The Premier League is very attractive for any player and in this moment there are a number of Spanish players there."

Midfielder Mark Wilson has joined Scottish Premier League side Livingston on loan for the remainder of the season.

Wilson, 26 next month, has been restricted to one Carling Cup appearance this season.

Mark Schwarzer is included in the Australia squad to play a friendly against South Africa in Durban on Wednesday, February 9.

* The latest Middlesbrough Supporters' Club meeting is being held tonight at the Hardwick Suite at the Riverside, starting at 7.30pm.

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