SUNDERLAND are confident of being able to outbid Hearts in the battle for Burton Albion striker Liam Boyce.

Phil Parkinson is keen to bolster his attacking resources this month, and has identified Boyce as his preferred target.

The Northern Irishman has scored 13 goals in 31 appearances this season, but with his contract due to expire in the summer, is expected to leave Burton before the transfer window closes on January 31.

Hearts are also keen to sign him, and their manager, Daniel Stendel, is understood to have held talks with the senior hierarchy at the Pirelli Stadium.

However, the SPL club are working to an extremely tight budget, and Sunderland officials are confident of being able to put together a financial package that will make more appeal to both the Burton board and Boyce and his representatives.

Sunderland value the 28-year-old at around £250,000, a sum that is likely to be accepted given Boyce will be free to leave for nothing at the end of the current campaign.

A 21-time Northern Ireland international, Boyce is understood to be keen on a new challenge after two-and-a-half years on Burton’s books.

He made his name with Scottish side Ross County prior to crossing the border to play in the Championship and League One, and finished last season with 14 goals as Burton missed out on a place in the play-offs.

Sunderland have inquired about the availability of Sheffield Wednesday striker Sam Winnall, but Owls boss Garry Monk is reluctant to lose the 28-year-old without a replacement in place, even though, like Boyce, he is also due to become a free agent in the summer.

Parkinson is expected to oversee a major overhaul of Sunderland’s attacking ranks this month, with Marc McNulty and Will Grigg both free to leave if an acceptable deal can be arranged.

McNulty, who has been linked with a possible reunion with former Black Cats boss Jack Ross at Hibernian, is on a season-long loan from Reading, but his permanent employers are willing to cut the present arrangement short if it increases the likelihood of the striker playing regular first-team football in the second half of the season.

Grigg has only made eight league starts this term, but Sunderland will only consider selling him if they can recoup the majority of the £3m they paid up front to sign him last January.

Aiden McGeady will almost certainly leave Wearside this month, with Parkinson having frozen the Irishman out of his first-team plans. McGeady, who has been training with Sunderland Under-23s, has been heavily linked with Hull City and Sheffield Wednesday, but is also attracting interest from clubs in America’s MLS.

Two players have already left the Stadium of Light since the transfer window reopened at the start of the year, with Laurens de Bock having returned to Leeds United after his loan deal was cut short and Dylan McGeouch having completed a free transfer to Aberdeen.

McGeouch, who has signed a two-and-a-half year deal at Pittodrie, made a total of 29 senior starts during his 18 months with Sunderland, with his final appearance having come as a second-half substitute in November’s FA Cup replay defeat at Gillingham.

“It’s been a bit of a frustrating season for me at Sunderland,” admitted the midfielder. “There have been highs and lows over the last year. I have some great memories there, and met a lot of good people.

“This year though has been a bit frustrating, especially over the last few months. It will be good to get back out onto the pitch and go and kick on again and get a good run of games.”