PHIL PARKINSON will be targeting out-of-contract defenders as he looks to strengthen his Sunderland squad, after admitting a couple of potential loan signings have fallen through this week because the Black Cats are close to reaching their salary-cap limit.

With Arbenit Xhemajli having been ruled out of the rest of the season after damaging his cruciate ligaments, and Morgan Feeney also set to be sidelined for up to four months with a knee problem of his own, Parkinson is keen to add to his defensive options.

The transfer window for signing contracted players, either on a loan or permanent basis, closes at 5pm today, but clubs in the Football League can still sign free agents beyond that point.

With the financial picture relating to a possible Premier League bailout for clubs in Leagues One and Two still unclear, Parkinson is reluctant to commit to too much extra expenditure ahead of this afternoon’s deadline.

He is also mindful of the need to remain within the new salary-cap limits, a requirement that has seen two potential loan deals collapse in the last seven days, and is therefore prioritising the pursuit of out-of-contract players ahead of any new loan discussions.

“If we can do something before the deadline, then good, but there are players who are out of contract that are available after Friday as well,” said Parkinson. “At the moment, I’d say a permanent deal before Friday’s deadline was probably unlikely. A permanent deal is more likely for an out-of-contract player next week.

“What we’re finding is that with the couple of loan players we’ve been trying for, because of the salary cap, then certainly for the players at Championship clubs, the level of wages we can offer is not enough to tempt those Championship clubs to let their players go.

“We thought there was a couple we might be able to get this week, but the general answer we’ve had is, ‘For that money, we’d rather keep the player because there’s only ten weeks until the January window opens anyway’. That’s the problem.

“If we could make an offer where the owner of that particular club would say, ‘Well, it’s worth our while’, that would be different. But at the moment, with the salary cap, we’re not able to do that. So a lot of the loans from Premier League and Championship clubs have proved difficult, especially when it’s players who have quality and have been playing at that level.

“That’s difficult, but there are a lot of players out of contract. It’s probably been the worst summer in the history of football to be out of contract, but it means there are players out there. Players have had offers of contracts but then lost them because clubs are tightening their belts.”

Parkinson had expected to be pursuing attacking players in the final few days of the window, but while there is still a chance of him signing a new forward, his primary focus has switched to the opposite end of the field.

Xhemajli, a summer signing from Swiss side Neuchatel Xamax, will not play again this term after damaging his cruciate ligaments while on international duty with Kosovo.

The centre-half damaged his knee during a training session with Kosovo Under-21s, with the extent of the problem having become clear after he had a series of scans on his return to the North-East.

“It’s really frustrating for Arbi and ourselves, but most importantly for Arbi himself,” said Parkinson. “He’s come over and settled in well, in terms of getting to know the lads and getting used to the environment.

“It was an innocuous incident at the end of a training session, but it’s ended up with him getting a very serious injury. Our thoughts are with him. He’s back over with us now and he’s had a scan and seen our specialists. We’re going to take good care of him, but we definitely feel for him.”

As well as pursuing the “one or two players” he would like to complete his squad, Parkinson will also be hoping to engineer Aiden McGeady’s exit from Wearside ahead of this afternoon’s deadline.

The Republic of Ireland international has been told he does not have a future with the Black Cats, but Sunderland are yet to receive a single formal offer for his services.

As a result, there is a good chance he could remain on Sunderland’s books until at least January, but even if he does not move on, Parkinson is adamant there is no chance of the 34-year-old being reintegrated into the first-team fold.

“At the moment, Aiden is training with the Under-23s,” said Parkinson. “We haven’t had any calls for him – well, I certainly haven’t, and I don’t think anyone else in the club has either. He’s probably in that situation where clubs haven’t really got the money to bring anybody else in.

“I stand by what I’ve said before (in terms of McGeady’s future). We’ve got the youngsters who had a little taste of it the other week and did well, and are ready to play their part in this run where there’s going to be lots of games.

“I want to give them a chance. A few of the lads in the Under-23s outside the ones who played in the first team against Carlisle have also done well. So, we’ve got the option of those and I want to make sure they get the chance if it comes along.”

Denver Hume is a doubt for Sunderland’s return to League One action at Swindon tomorrow as he jarred his knee in training earlier this week and is still experiencing discomfort.