Fulham have emerged as potential suitors for Sunderland midfielder Lee Cattermole.
The 25-year-old has been told he does not figure in new head coach Paolo Di Canio’s plans and is expected to depart Wearside this summer.
And Martin Jol’s Fulham could offer the former Middlesbrough and Wigan man an escape route, with the Cottagers understood to be readying a £2.5m bid.
That would suit Sunderland, who would be willing to take a loss on the £5m they paid Wigan for Cattermole’s services in 2009 in return for getting him off their wage bill.
Cattermole signed a new three-and-a-half year contract in October which runs until the summer of 2016.
Fulham are also favourites to sign Sunderland outcast Phil Bardsley, who has been frozen out by Di Canio since being fined for a breach of club discipline back in May.
Bardsley did not travel with the first team for their pre-season training camp in Italy, or to Hong Kong when the club took part in the Barclays Asia Trophy.
The defender remained on Wearside training with Sunderland’s Under-21 squad.
Cattermole also missed both foreign trips as he was still undergoing rehab work following the knee ligament surgery he underwent in March, although he is now fully fit.
Meanwhile, Sunderland’s England Under-21 international striker Connor Wickham believes Di Canio’s emphasis on fitness will pay dividends when the Premier League campaign gets under way later this month.
Di Canio put his squad through its paces during an intensive 10-day training camp in Italy before heading out to the Far East for the BAT and, while Wickham admits it was hard work, he is confident that Sunderland will feel the benefit.
“We went to Italy for a couple of weeks, and were only back for two days before going out to Hong Kong,” he said.
“Now we’re back in the North East, we’ll be one of fittest teams in the league, without a doubt.
“So hopefully, we can use Hong Kong and Italy as a stepping stone for the start of the season.
“It’s been difficult, but all of the lads were expecting a difficult pre-season.
“We’ve all dealt with it, and completed all the runs and the games.
“We are feeling fitter and stronger in the games, so I think it’s only going to help us and improve us as a team.”
Sunderland’s pre-season games in Hong Kong were marred by torrential rain, which made conditions treacherous.
But the Black Cats produced an encouraging performance as they beat Tottenham Hotspur in the semi-final of the competition, and gave a decent account of themselves in the final despite losing to Manchester City.
Wickham added: “Obviously the conditions weren’t great, and then it started to rain halfway through both games.
“But there was nothing we could do. We just had to try to play our own game.
“They were playing on the same pitch as us, so I don’t think we can blame them.
“It was a shame to lose after getting to the final.
“But it’s all about fitness at this stage of the season.”