SUNDERLAND are exploring the loan market in a bid to strengthen numbers to boost Jack Ross’ attempts to deliver promotion back to the Championship.

The Black Cats boss, whose side are in the Algarve where they play Beleneneses on Saturday night, have made three signings for the first team squad so far and wants more.

At the start of the summer there was an admission from above that Sunderland were looking to add “seven or eight” new faces before the start of the campaign.

And with two weeks remaining until the season opener with Oxford United at the Stadium of Light, Ross knows that time is running out to get more players in before the big kick-off.

He is still looking to add a striker to his ranks and some creativity, but a failure to secure Mark Campbell’s investment has slowed the recruitment drive down. Sunderland are looking to move players on before they replace them.

Bryan Oviedo is one who is expected to leave but Sunderland are still working on options.

And the club’s recruitment chief Tony Coton has been in London this week to listen to who could be available on loan. There was a meeting between clubs’ scouts at Stamford Bridge to discuss the situation.

Coton, in an interview with the New York Times, said: “If you can progress talks with the two clubs then you’re in a stronger position than an agent trying to broker deals, getting in this, getting that.

“Here I will hear it from the horse’s mouth now exactly how much the player’s earning at that club and I can say, ‘yes we can go to that,’ or ‘no we can’t go to that,’ without the agent getting involved because invariably the agent will inflate what he’s on to try to increase his wages and for a loan I don’t think that’s right.”

Sunderland, who drew 0-0 with Benfica B in Albufeira on Thursday, handed further action to new recruits Conor McLaughlin and Lee Burge in that Portugal opener. Former Coventry defender Jordan Wilis was also given his first appearance.

Willis, 24, was aware of other interest in him from the Championship – with Bristol City and Luton having been linked – but he has explained his reasons for moving to Wearside.

Willis said: “There’s many reasons - the stature of this club, to play in front of this many fans week in, week out, I couldn’t turn it down.

“Then the manager and the coaching staff, they made the point to me that they progress players and that’s what I wanted.

“They improve players and that’s what I wanted, and I also wanted to be part of the journey to get this club back to where it deserves to be.”

Sunderland look certain to be a man down already come the start of the campaign because skipper George Honeyman has suffered a knee injury.

Honeyman did not travel to Portugal because of the injury picked up in pre-season and Ross has admitted the battle is on for him to be fit to start the new campaign.

“I was at an EFL meeting on Monday and George picked up a knee injury,” Ross said. “In fairness, it’s been bothering him for a little while now and early in pre-season it’s been troubling him again, it’s not really settled down.

“He always wants to train and be involved, but it’s been causing him a lot of discomfort. The work that needs done on it is minor, but it meant he wouldn’t have been able to do anything out here, even rehab, so it’s not worthwhile him coming out.”