SUNDERLAND manager Peter Reid, desperate to inject new fire power into a team which has scored only 13 Premiership goals this season, is believed to be ready to more than double the club's transfer record with a bid of £10m for Leeds United striker Alan Smith.

The Wearside boss, who had been tempted to go for England striker Robbie Fowler before his £11m move from Liverpool to Elland Road, is becoming alarmed at the goal drought, which is threatening to suck his side into a relegation battle.

Sunderland have scored only one goal in the last four matches and only Derby County and Leicester City, currently lying second and third bottom in the table, have scored fewer goals this season, with 11 apiece.

Sunderland's away record is particularly woeful, with three goals in eight matches, including two in the last victory away from Wearside, a fortunate 2-0 success at Bolton at the end of September.

Only England striker Kevin Phillips has shown any form in front of goal, with seven of his eight strikes coming in the Premiership. But he has struggled to find the free-scoring form which produced him 44 top-flight strikes in the last two seasons.

Reid went to Bordeaux in the summer to pay £3.6m for Lilian Laslandes, but the French international has not been a success in his move across the Channel.

There have been suggestions that Sunderland would be willing to cut their losses on the big striker.

And with Phillips' regular partner Niall Quinn, at 35 now in the twilight of his career, Reid recognises the need for a proven goal-scorer to take the weight off Phillips, who was played as a lone striker in the rock-bottom 2-0 defeat at Southampton at the weekend.

Sunderland fans have been crying out for Reid to make a big move into the transfer market.

It seems he is finally ready to push the boat out with an ambitious approach for the 21-year-old England international.

Smith will find it increasingly difficult to get into the Leeds starting line-up after the arrival of Fowler.

Leeds manager David O'Leary has knocked down suggestions that he might be tempted to sell one of his most exciting young players and deplete a squad he already feels does not yet have the strength in depth of his main Championship rivals.

But a huge bid for local-boy Smith, whose hot-headed disciplinary record has been a growing embarrassment for the Yorkshire club, could well prove attractive to the powers-that-be at Elland Road.

Meanwhile Portsmouth say they have rejected a £4m offer from Sunderland for their highly-rated 18-year-old midfielder Gary O'Neil.

Belgian club Charleroi are awaiting developments after 19-year-old youth international right winger Gregory Dufer's trial last week on Wearside.

Reid last night admitted an interest in O'Neil after watching him in action for England Under-19s at York recently when he won the Man of the Match award.

He said: "He is a young lad that we rate and who we've had a look at, but we have made no firm bid for him."

London-born O'Neil has only started 23 League games for the First Division outfit, but has already established himself as a first team regular and manager Graham Rix has extended his contract to 2006.

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