SUNDERLAND are close to securing their third signing of the summer, with a deal for Walsall midfielder George Dobson nearing completion.

Black Cats officials have been in contact with their counterparts at the Bescot Stadium, and are hopeful an agreement can be signed off shortly.

Dobson is Walsall’s skipper despite only being 21, and was his side’s stand-out performer last season as they were relegated from League One.

A former Arsenal and West Ham youth player, who can also play in the back four, Dobson had a brief spell with Sparta Rotterdam before joining Walsall on a permanent basis in January 2018.

He made 35 league starts last season, but is set to be sold this summer as Walsall reacclimatise to life in League Two.

Sunderland boss Jack Ross is keen to strengthen his midfield in the wake of Lee Cattermole’s recent departure.

Dylan McGeouch’s future remains up in the air with Aberdeen having offered him a return to the Scottish Premier League, and Dobson’s arrival would ensure Sunderland are well covered at the heart of midfield.

Cattermole left when the final year of his contract was cancelled by mutual consent – he is expected to link back up with Steve Bruce at Sheffield Wednesday before the start of the new season – and Ross has paid tribute to the Teessider, who spent ten seasons on Sunderland’s books.

“First of all, he deserves to be remembered fondly,” said Ross. “It’s not often a player spends that length of time at a club, it’s very rare in the modern era.

“He’ll have seen a lot in that time, a lot of different challenges that he’ll have had to meet in that time. He’s been part of different teams.

“I think we developed a good relationship very quickly, I think he bought into how we worked and responded to it, I think he enjoyed the relationship with me and my staff.

“I’d like to think that was reflected in his performances last season and his contribution on the park. I’m pleased that his time at the club came to an end in a positive light if you like, in terms of how people remember him. He goes with my very best wishes.”

While Cattermole has left Wearside, two players have arrived at the Stadium of Light since the transfer window reopened. Lee Burge has joined from Coventry to provide some goalkeeping competition to Jon McLaughlin, while Northern Ireland Conor McLaughlin moved to the North-East after his previous contract with Millwall expired.

McLaughlin is set to be Sunderland’s first-choice right-back during the pre-season programme that begins with a game at South Shields on Thursday, with Ross keen to restore Luke O’Nien to his former position in midfield.

“First and foremost, it (right-back) was very obviously a position that was a priority to fill in our squad with Adam (Matthews) leaving,” said Ross, in an interview with Sunderland’s official website.

“Luke did a terrific job last season, but we know that he still has attributes to offer further up the park and we want to explore that during the pre-season period as well.

“So it was a priority for us, Conor was available for free after leaving Millwall, is a proven player both in League One and the Championship, and has international experience.

“Then you do your due diligence in terms of talking to people who have worked with him and they’re complimentary about him both as a character and as a player.

“There’s a lot of pluses about having Conor in the group, he’s settled very quickly and also has a versatility about the positions he can play defensively and that can help us as well.”