NEWCASTLE have turned their transfer attentions to Tom Cairney – but have been told they will have to splash out £8m to sign the Fulham midfielder.

Magpies manager Rafael Benitez remains determined to sign a central midfielder this month, but his initial attempts to make a transfer breakthrough have proved unsuccessful.

Cheick Tiote is set to complete a permanent move away from Tyneside in the next few days, with Spanish sides Sporting Gijon and Leganes both pursuing a free transfer, but Benitez’s hopes of completing an early signing of his own have failed to come to fruition.

Loan offers for Tom Cleverley, Fabian Delph and Ruben Loftus-Cheek remain on the table, but if any of the three players move on this month, they are likely to remain in the top-flight with Premier League clubs.

As a result, Benitez has shifted his attention elsewhere, with Cairney the latest player to command his attention.

Having joined Fulham in a £4m move from Blackburn in 2015, the 25-year-old Scot has established himself as one of the most effective creative midfielders in the Championship.

He has been in especially good form this season, scoring five goals in 24 games as Fulham have emerged as surprise promotion contenders.

He would be a useful addition to a Newcastle midfield that has been short of creativity in the absence of the suspended Jonjo Shelvey, but his importance to Fulham means the Craven Cottage hierarchy are extremely reluctant to sell him this month.

Speaking shortly after the opening of the transfer window, Fulham boss Slavisa Jokanovic said: “Tom Cairney is so important to us. He makes us tick, and he shows he can do damage to teams. I’m going to guarantee he’s going to stay with us.”

That guarantee would be tested if Fulham were to receive a massive offer, but it would take at least £8m – double what they paid Blackburn 18 months ago – to even persuade them to consider entering formal talks.

Whether Newcastle are willing to pay that kind of money remains to be seen, with Benitez balancing the need to sign reinforcements to aid his side’s ongoing promotion push with the desire to only agree permanent deals for players capable of handling the step up to the Premier League.

The Magpies are also considering a move for Malian left-back Cheick Keita, who is currently plying his trade with Italian Serie B side Virtus Entella.

Keita, a 20-year-old who was released by Monaco in the summer, has been hitting the headlines in Italy’s second tier, and is valued at around €2m. Newcastle currently boast Paul Dummett and Achraf Lazaar at left-back, although Benitez regards the latter as a player who could also play in midfield.

The Magpies’ midfield resources could be reduced before the weekend, with Tiote on the verge of completing a move to Spain.

The 30-year-old, who is the subject of interest from both Sporting Gijon and Leganes, made his first start of the season in Saturday’s FA Cup draw at Birmingham City, and has only made 32 senior appearances in the last three campaigns.

He would have left Tyneside a year ago had a proposed move to Chinese side Shanghai Shenhua not fallen through, and was on the verge of leaving again in the summer, only for a mooted move to Turkish side Galatasaray to also collapse.

He has been training with Benitez’s first-team squad for the last couple of months, but with his contract due to expire in the summer, Newcastle’s recruitment team are happy to allow him to leave on a free transfer in order to get his £60,000-a-week wages off the books.

Newcastle return to action at Brentford on Saturday, and while they will almost certainly be without striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, the Serbian should be back in a couple of weeks after his knee injury proved to be not as severe as initially feared.

Mitrovic needed oxygen as he left the pitch at Birmingham on a stretcher at the weekend, but suffered a deep cut to his knee rather than ligament damage

“Mitro’s a tough guy and he’ll recover from it,” said Newcastle skipper Jamaal Lascelles. “There are no bones broken – it’s just a cut on the knee. He’s a tough guy – he’ll be back in no time.

“I didn’t see it. I just saw the cut on his leg, which was quite deep. Because he was throwing his body around there, he got us a goal. Fair play to him, he’ll be back sooner than we think.”

Saturday’s draw means Newcastle face a third-round replay, but while Birmingham were the better side for long periods of Saturday’s game at St Andrew’s, Lascelles is confident it will be a very different story when the sides lock horns again a week tomorrow.

“We set out in a different formation that we’re not used to, and we had a lot of players that hadn’t played in a while,” he said. “I think they’ve come in and done a great job. They got a lot of fitness from the game. We’re looking forward to playing them at our place.

“We started off really well, but knew it would be really tough. They’re physical and big on second balls, but we know how to play against them.”

Meanwhile, Newcastle youngsters Freddie Woodman, Callum Roberts and Sean Longstaff have joined Scottish Premier League side Kilmarnock on loan until the end of the season.