LEE JOHNSON has agreed a deal to make Carl Winchester his first signing as Sunderland head coach, but admits that the remainder of his January transfer business is likely to be dependent on who leaves the Stadium of Light.

Winchester’s switch from Forest Green Rovers could be announced over the weekend, with the central midfielder understood to have agreed the terms of a contract with the Black Cats.

At his press conference ahead of tomorrow’s rearranged game with Hull City, Johnson confirmed he was “very close” to signing a midfielder, even if he refused to mention Winchester by name.

The Forest Green skipper worked with Johnson during the pair’s time at Oldham, and is set to become an important part of Sunderland’s midfield mix, but his arrival will take the club to the very limit of its salary-cap allowance.

Johnson can continue to target Under-21 players who do not count towards salary-cap calculations, and has held talks with a couple of Premier League bosses about academy targets.

However, he will also consider freeing up space on the wage bill by encouraging players to leave, with George Dobson, Aiden O’Brien and Danny Graham among those who could become surplus to requirements in the next few weeks.

“We’re very close to having at least one through the door, and ideally we get to two or three in this window,” said Johnson. “I’ve identified the areas where I think the squad could improve, but it’s a very difficult market in a place where we’re almost in purgatory because of the ownership situation.

“To be honest though, the salary-cap issue provides our blueprint anyway. Transfer fees don’t come into the salary cap, but we’re not in a position where we’re able to flex our muscles no matter what happens.

“It’s been difficult for me to get used to all the rules that are in place around the salary cap. There are so many tiny rules and regulations that it’s not as simple as one player comes in for x amount, one player goes out for x amount, and there you are, you’ve complied with the salary cap. There’s a lot to be considered.

“There may be ins and outs, but that’s the evolution of any squad in the transfer window. We’ll try to do the right thing by the players who could go out, either on a permanent or a loan. We’re always looking to improve all areas of the pitch, and everyone understands that.”

While Johnson’s first month in charge of Sunderland was extremely chaotic as a result of the coronavirus outbreak that forced the club to lock down over Christmas, the enforced break did at least provide him with an opportunity to compile a detailed assessment of the squad he inherited.

He has identified key areas that could be improved, although he admits a degree of squad reshaping is an inevitable consequence of any transfer window.

“I think a squad always needs freshening,” he said. “Every window you get to, unless you’re a Liverpool or a Manchester City, then you should always be looking to keep people on their toes and drive competition.

“You’re forever having to adjust for injury issues or even injury issues that could be pending in the future. We’ve got a couple that probably need hernia operations and are playing through the pain at the moment, but until we get a fully-fit squad or have players that are flexible enough to play a number of different positions, they can’t have that hernia.”

Winchester’s arrival will see the 27-year-old joining a central-midfield unit that is already reasonably well stocked in terms of numbers, but Johnson says there are a number of elements to any transfer decision.

“You have to take every particular signing on its merits, and understand its purpose,” he said. “For example, it might be that an existing player in the squad wants to play regular football and you can’t offer it to him, in which case you loan him out or move him out on a transfer. Or it might be you’ve got an older player that’s not going to make 32-plus games in four months. You’ve got to have a look at the big picture.”