SUNDERLAND are preparing to clear the decks of their fringe strikers to pave the way for the return of promising teenage frontman Martyn Waghorn.
Sunderland manager Steve Bruce has blocked loan deals for Daryl Murphy and David Healy this season in case he needed them but is not convinced they can cut it at Premier League level and he is ready to sell both in the January transfer window.
Irish striker Roy O’Donovan is set for the exit door too as Bruce plans an overhaul of the forward options he has below first-choice trio Kenwyne Jones, Darren Bent and Fraizer Campbell.
That would free Bruce to bring back Waghorn from Leicester City, where he has become a key part of Nigel Pearson’s side’s promotion push.
The Sunderland academy graduate has scored four goals in 17 games and Pearson is desperate to keep hold of the 19-year-old.
But sources close to Bruce have indicated that he would like to take a closer look at the striker. And, although the young forward has expressed his interest in staying with the Foxes until the end of the season – something Pearson is keen to push through in the January transfer window – letting Healy, Murphy and O’Donovan go would leave Sunderland thin on resources up
front. With question marks surrounding the goal threat offered by Campbell, who is yet to score in the Premier League for the Black Cats, Bruce would be prepared to give Waghorn first-team experience if he returned to Wearside.
It still promises to be an awkward conversation with the forward, who reaffirmed his desire to stay in the East Midlands after bagging a goal for Leicester at Scunthorpe on Saturday.
“It would be a wrench to leave as long as I’m enjoying it,” he said.
“I don’t know what is happening at the minute, but I would definitely be happy to stay. I like the club and enjoy being with the lads so I don’t see why I wouldn’t stay if the chance was there.” Much appears to rest on the futures of Bruce’s forgotten strikers, who have had few chances to prove themselves to the new Black Cats boss.
Murphy was wanted by Middlesbrough and Ipswich but a change in manager on Teesside has ended Boro’s interest in the Irish striker.
Roy Keane would still be willing to take the former Luton Town trainee, however, and there is also long-standing interest from Queens Park Rangers in the rangy forward.
Healy has also been told he can leave if he can find a new club, and the forward is understood to be resigned to leaving Sunderland after an unhappy period that has seen him fail to start a top-flight game. Coventry City are ready to launch a January bid and Healy would be a keen on a move that would re-ignite his flagging international career.
Meanwhile, Michael Turner has admitted that Sunderland are not doing themselves justice by failing to capitalise on taking the scalps of the Premier League’s big four.
The defender is at a loss to explain the away form that has left Bruce contemplating another shake-up for this weekend’s trip to Fulham.
“We’re not doing ourselves justice,” he said. “It’s all very well claiming some big scalps, but we’ve failed to follow that up.
“I don’t know what it is. It’s not over confidence – although we do go out and believe we are capable of winning these games. The gaffer wasn’t happy and I can’t blame him. We let him down and let ourselves down.
“They defended for their lives and that was possibly partly down to their last result but we should still have been better.”
Meanwhile, Sunderland spent a little over £2m on agents’ fees in the period from the beginning of October last year to the end of September this year, according to figures released last night by the Premier League. A total of £70m was handed over to players’ representatives by the current 20 top-flight clubs for their work in 803 transactions – an average of £87,000 per deal.