PHIL PARKINSON is prioritising the pursuit of Under-21 players as he looks to strengthen his squad before the transfer window closes, after admitting Sunderland are extremely close to the maximum spending limits permitted under the EFL’s new salary-cap regulations.

The Black Cats can only spend £2.5m on wages this season, and having added Aiden O’Brien, Bailey Wright, Remi Matthews, Arbenit Xhemajli and Danny Graham to the first-team group since the end of last term, Parkinson is close to reaching the cap.

Players eligible for the Under-21s do not count towards the spending limit, though, so the Sunderland boss intends to spend the next couple of weeks assessing any youngsters that become available.

A bid for Argentinian forward Mateo Bajamich proved unsuccessful when the 21-year-old opted to join MLS side Houston Dynamo instead, but Parkinson expects to inquire about a couple of similarly youthful targets before the transfer window closes next month.

“We’ve got time,” said the Black Cats boss, who takes his side to the Kassam Stadium tomorrow to face Oxford. “We haven’t got a great deal of money left in terms of the money we can go to, we have to say that. Unless it’s an Under-21 player, there’s not a lot of leeway there.

“There’s a bit left, but it’s not as much as we would like. We’ve got to make sure if we do add to it, it’s the right player. Then we’ve also got to keep looking at those Under-21 players just to see if there’s anything we can do there.”

Parkinson has to submit a 22-man squad list to the EFL next month – an unlimited number of Under-21 players can also be called upon - and only players featuring on that list will count towards the salary-cap regulations.

Therefore, while the Sunderland boss remains determined to move Aiden McGeady out of the club before the window closes, the Irishman’s wages will not count towards the Black Cats’ £2.5m limit if he remains on the books but is not named in the squad.

McGeady, who is still recovering from a calf injury sustained while training with Sunderland’s development squad, has been offered to clubs at home and abroad, but the Wearsiders are yet to receive a single offer for his services. Speaking at the start of the month, the 34-year-old hinted he would be willing to see out the remaining nine months of his contract at the Stadium of Light, even if it meant him having to accept he would not be involved with the first team.

“By October, we’ve got to announce a 22-man squad, and it’s only the players in that squad that count for the salary-cap regulations,” confirmed Parkinson. “So if, for example, you had a long-term injury and you didn’t name that player in your squad, that player wouldn’t count towards the limit.

“I still feel as though it’s a little bit vague. I went to see our secretary this morning and said, ‘Can you just come in and explain exactly how this is going to work?’ If someone is out with a long-term injury, is it worth putting them in there? Can we change it in January?”

Parkinson’s immediate concern is tomorrow’s meeting with an Oxford side that were only denied a place in the Championship when they lost to Wycombe Wanderers in August’s play-off final.

Sunderland are without the suspended George Dobson, who was dismissed in last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Bristol Rovers, but despite neither Grant Leadbitter nor Josh Scowen taking part in full training yesterday, the duo should both be available tomorrow.

“There’s nothing major to have to worry about,” said Parkinson. “Grant Leadbitter picked up a dead leg earlier in the week, but he should be okay. Josh Scowen has not been with us (yesterday), he’s had a family bereavement and is at a funeral. But everybody else has been fine, which is good.

“George is out, but we’ve got players to come in. We’ve said right from the start that getting Grant back has been a real plus for us, and there’s obviously Josh too, who is pushing hard for a place as well. We’ve got options. We’ve got Goochy (Lynden Gooch) who hasn’t started yet, and young Dan Neil, so we’ve got plenty of options.”

Elliot Embleton will add his name to the midfield mix once he completes his recovery from injury, although he will need a couple of outings with the Under-23s before he is considered for senior duty.