LEE BOWYER was locked in talks with West Ham last night after Sunderland revealed they had failed to persuade the Leeds midfielder to join them on a deal until the end of the season.

The Hammers are confident that the controversial Bowyer will make his debut for his boyhood heroes in Saturday's home match against Newcastle, who had also been credited with an interest in the England international.

West Ham have agreed an undiclosed fee for 26-year-old Bowyer after he settled on a schedule for the repayment of oustanding legal bills to Leeds, believed to total £1m, arising from his much-publicised trials.

But Sunderland, like the Hammers desperate to boost their fight for Premiership survival, explored the possibility of bringing Bowyer to the Stadium of Light.

Black Cats boss Howard Wilkinson, who in the twilight of his time in charge of Leeds lured Bowyer from Charlton Athletic in a £2.8m move when he was still a teenager, spoke to his protg last week after Sunderland reached agreement over a short-term deal.

But Bowyer's head had been turned by the chance to link up with his beloved Hammers.

A Sunderland spokeswoman explained: "We spoke to Leeds last week and agreed a deal that was acceptable to give us an opportunity to talk to the player.

"Howard had signed Bowyer for Leeds and he had a lengthy conversation with him about coming here until the end of the season.

"It was a positive conversation, but Lee said the only place he would go would be West Ham because he was a boyhood fan.''

It is unclear whether Sunderland would have settled Bowyer's legal fees, but it seems certain that West Ham have agreed to do so as part of the deal.

Bowyer met Hammers manager Glenn Roeder and managing director Paul Aldridge last night with the aim of finalising personal terms.

A spokesman for West Ham said: "Lee Bowyer is on his way to meet Glenn Roeder and Paul Aldridge. There is no timescale on this, but we hope that if all goes well, he will become a West Ham player.''

Bowyer, out of contract at Elland Road this summer, had turned down a new deal with Leeds, who agreed a fee with Liverpool last summer before Anfield boss Gerard Houllier had second thoughts and the move collapsed.

A statement on the Leeds website, www.lufc.co.uk, confirmed: "Leeds United and Lee Bowyer have agreed a schedule for the repayment of his outstanding legal fees. Lee will be having contract talks with West Ham.

"Lee has said he will not sign the contract currently on offer to him at Leeds and would therefore be leaving the club this summer.

"In the light of these circumstances, we have agreed to transfer Lee to West Ham for an undisclosed fee.''

With his side rooted to the foot of the Premiership, Roeder's priority is to sign a striker as Paolo di Canio and Freddie Kanoute have long-term injuries. But the chance to sign Hammers fanatic Bowyer proved too good to resist.

Birmingham last week admitted they had made enquiries about Bowyer's availability, while Tottenham were believed to have turned down the chance to sign him.

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