SUNDERLAND’S hopes of signing Luke Garbutt have increased after Ipswich Town signalled their intention to pull out of the race for the former Everton full-back.

The Black Cats have offered Garbutt a contract at the Stadium of Light, and have held a series of discussions with the left-back and his representatives.

However, they are far from the only club to have talked terms with the 27-year-old, who is a free agent following his release from Everton at the end of last season.

Ipswich had also made an offer to the defender, but Paul Lambert has already started to look elsewhere as he looks to strengthen the left-hand side of his team’s defence.

Lambert has taken former Republic of Ireland international Stephen Ward on trial, and is ready to make a contract offer provided the former Wolves, Burnley and Stoke defender impresses in the next few days.

If Ward signs at Portman Road, Ipswich will formally end their interest in Garbutt, removing one potential obstacle to Sunderland sealing a deal.

Phil Parkinson has had a left-back trialist of his own in the last few days, with former Manchester United youngster Demetri Mitchell having spent time with Sunderland’s first-team squad.

Mitchell, who boasts senior experience in the Scottish Premiership after two spells with Hearts, is understood to have performed creditably at the Academy of Light, but Garbutt’s experience in both the Championship and League One means he has always been Parkinson’s preferred option.

Competition from the Championship could yet prove a problem, although while a number of clubs in the second tier have been linked with Garbutt in the last fortnight, none are believed to have made a formal offer to his representatives.

As well as pursuing a new left-back, Parkinson is also assessing his goalkeeping options in the wake of Jon McLaughlin’s departure to Rangers.

Sunderland have held discussions over Montenegro international Matija Sarkic, who is expected to leave Wolves on loan this summer.

However, Remi Matthews, a free agent who previously played under Parkinson during his time at Bolton Wanderers, is regarded as an alternative option.