FORMER Sunderland midfielder Grant Leadbitter could be on his way back to the North East after appearing on Middlesbrough’s transfer radar.
Tony Mowbray is already plotting his summer recruitment plan – regardless of which division Middlesbrough find themselves in.
And Fence Houses-born Leadbitter, pictured, currently on a rich goalscoring run for Championship club Ipswich Town, is one of the potential targets for Mowbray.
He is out of contract at Portman Road and has turned down a vastly-reduced new package.
The Riversiders entertain Cardiff City tomorrow (3pm) having slipped out of the play-off zone following a run of six Championship games without victory.
However, that has not stopped Mowbray pondering his options for next season ahead of what promises to be a busy summer on Teesside.
Barry Robson has already announced his decision to join Canadian side Vancouver Whitecaps, while the injured Matthew Bates, full-backs Justin Hoyte and Tony McMahon and reserve goalkeeper Danny Coyne are all out of contract.
Bates could yet win a new deal despite facing at least six months on the sidelines with a fifth cruciate knee ligament injury.
The futures of Malaury Martin and Bart Ogbeche, who signed short-term contracts last year, are also in doubt.
Asked about the Leadbitter, Mowbray said: “I don’t think it’s a time for me to talk about bringing in specific players.
“The squad we have got at the moment has to get on with the job and try and get us into the Premier League.”
But he also said it would be short-sighted if he was not weighing up moves with an eye to the 2012/13 campaign.
“We’ve got, I think, eight players out of contract in the summer and some of them we probably won’t be able to re-sign because of the financial restraints on the club,” Mowbray added.
“So we are looking everywhere for players who can help us move forward.”
Meanwhile, with Australian striker Scott McDonald free of injury for the promotion run-in, Mowbray is backing his strikeforce to fire his side back into the play-off places.
“For much of this season we had only Scott McDonald and Marvin Emnes,” said Mowbray.
“Now we have Lukas Jutkiewicz, Bart Ogbeche and Curtis Main as well. I think that with the ground a striker has to cover you can’t expect any of them to play every minute of every game.
“But that means when any one of them is not on the pitch he is champing at the bit to be involved – and that’s what we want.
“The attitude of all of them is excellent and that has to be good for the team.
“When Curtis was playing, Bart was disappointed and wanted his opportunity.
“He showed that in training, deserved his opportunity and took it.
“But Curtis is young and remains in the frame.
“That’s the way it is, but we need all of them to be sharp and ready – and they are.”