Sunderland are running the rule over Hartlepool United’s in-demand centre-back Jack Baldwin.
The Black Cats watched the 20-year-old defender impress in the weekend FA Cup clash with Coventry City, along with Premier League rivals Stoke and Championship pair Blackburn and Huddersfield. And with Sunderland on the look out for fresh defensive talent a January move for the highly-rated centre-back is a understood to be a possibility.
Gus Poyet is unsure the exact size of his January war chest but Sunderland owner Ellis Short knows that whatever the denouement of this dismal season, a major re-structuring job is required at the end of the campaign.
It is understood that Sunderland are casting the net for young, British talent and that order took talent spotters to Victoria Park to see one of the lower league’s leading prospects.
Hartlepool are hoping to raise more than £500,000 if they are forced to let Baldwin go, but Sunderland may be prepared to let the defender rejoin the League Two club on loan as part of any deal. Sunderland’s interest comes after they missed out on Dundee United’s teenage defender John Souttar after failing to agree a fee with the Tannadice club for the Scotland Under-19 international.
The Black Cats had invited the 19-year-old to the Stadium of Light for a tour of the facilities but failed to land the player, who is now interesting upwardly mobile Everton.
Although plans are being made for the New Year, the early suggestions have been that Sunderland’s January spending will depend on whether they gain ground on their fellow Premier League strugglers.
But Poyet has identified a number of potential targets, with Brighton midfielder Liam Bridcutt mentioned in meetings. It is the interest in Baldwin which is slightly closer to home for Sunderland supporters.
Hartlepool are braced for interest in the centre-back and boss Colin Cooper told The Journal last month that several of his players – including Baldwin – would be able to play at Championship level at least.
“I haven’t got a problem saying it: we have got players who could comfortably play at Championship level without it being a massive stretch,” he said. “Now whether that is with Hartlepool or not I don’t know, but we’ve got players who can play at a higher level and that’s a fact.”
Sunderland have some major decisions to make in the coming months with an astonishing nine players set to see their contracts expire at the end of the campaign.
The Black Cats are yet to open contract negotiations with Seb Larsson, while Craig Gardner will be allowed to leave in January if a viable offer is made for him.
Larsson admitted: “At the moment, we’re just worrying about the football. Nothing’s really been said and you’ve just got to get on with it.
“There’s no problems from me because we haven’t really spoken. It’s about getting the team to where it should be and making sure the club is in the Premier League for next year.”
Meanwhile, boss Poyet is ready to postpone any plans for a Christmas party as Sunderland continue to struggle at the foot of the Premier League table.
The Sunderland manager admits that celebrations have got out of hand of late and feels that his team need to accept it might not come across well if they are pictured enjoying themselves.
He said: “There is a time and a place for everything but the players know the situation we are in so we have to manage it.
“It’s not like that. It is the fact that it used to be normal, then we, and I include myself as well, we made it not normal these Christmas celebrations.
“Someone did it because they went over the top and then it became an issue when it should be a nice day out, a good dinner and couple of drinks and then home. What is wrong with that? Absolutely nothing. But when you go over the top, it is a problem.
“But now you can go out in July or September, it doesn’t have to be at Christmas time. The point is they are famous and as such it doesn’t need a Christmas party to get people looking and talking.”