MARTIN O’NEILL will wait until the end of the season to make a final decision on Sunderland’s out-of-contract players.
The deals of defensive duo Titus Bramble and Matt Kilgallon both expire in the summer and it has been expected that both will be released as free agents.
But Bramble’s prospects of extending his three-year stint on Wearside have perhaps been boosted by his longest run of first-team football in more than two years after starting Sunderland’s last 10 games.
The 31-year-old was a target for basement boys QPR during January, while he has also been linked with a Bosman move to Championship pair Middlesbrough and Ipswich.
But Bramble declared last week that he would be keen to pen a new contract on Wearside.
“I will happily sign a new contract here, but it’s out of my hands. I just have to play well and who knows?” he said.
But O’Neill says with Sunderland’s league position so precarious, any contract issues have to be put on the back-burner.
Sunderland lie a nervy six points above the drop zone, with third-bottom Wigan boasting a game in hand, ahead of Sunday’s crunch home encounter against Norwich City.
“Now, at this minute, the most important issue is trying to get points on the board,” said the Sunderland manager.
“I know it’s a cliche, but those things (contracts) can wait.”
It would still be a major surprise if either Bramble or particularly Kilgallon were at the Stadium of Light at the start of next season.
Kilgallon has not featured in the Premier League since enduring a torrid time in the 3-0 defeat at Liverpool on January 2.
And although Bramble has enjoyed a run in the side recently, the former Ipswich Town man has endured an injury-prone stint at the Stadium of Light and is on a lucrative deal with the club.
Tellingly, too, O’Neill made decisions on Sunderland’s two other out-of-contract players earlier in the season.
Skipper Lee Cattermole was handed a new deal by the club in October, while Fraizer Campbell was offloaded in the January transfer window.
Like Bramble and Kilgallon, Campbell was not likely to be offered a contract and Sunderland were able to cash-in by offloading the former Manchester United man to Championship high-fliers Cardiff City for £650,000.
Meanwhile, Sheffield Wednesday are hopeful of finally receiving an answer to their hopes of re-signing Connor Wickham on loan today.
Owls boss Dave Jones has been waiting on a decision from O’Neill since Wickham’s month-long loan spell at Hillsborough came to an end last weekend.
H Sunderland midfielder David Vaughan has been confirmed in the Wales squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Scotland and Croatia.
The Welsh travel to Hampden Park to take on Scotland on Friday, March 22, before hosting Croatia at Swansea’s Liberty Stadium on Tuesday, March 26.
WALES SQUAD: Boaz Myhill (West Brom), Lewis Price (Crystal Palace), Owain Fon Williams (Tranmere); Ben Davies (Swansea), James Collins (West Ham), Chris Gunter (Reading), Joel Lynch (Huddersfield), Jazz Richards (Swansea), Sam Ricketts (Bolton), Ashley Williams (Swansea, captain); Joe Allen (Liverpool), Jack Collison (West Ham), Andy King (Leicester), Joe Ledley (Celtic), Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal), David Vaughan (Sunderland), Jonathan Williams (Crystal Palace), Gareth Bale (Tottenham); Craig Bellamy (Cardiff), Simon Church (Reading), Steve Morison (Leeds), Hal Robson-Kanu (Reading), Sam Vokes (Burnley).