SUNDERLAND are hoping Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert’s interest in Grant Holt will help speed up Gabriel Agbonlahor’s arrival at the Stadium of Light.
Newly-appointed Lambert is poised to return to former club Norwich City, hoping to take the big wantaway frontman with him to Villa Park.
And if he succeeds, that should pave the way for the quick sale of Agbonlahor, with Sunderland at the front of the queue.
Holt was the surprise success story of the Premier League’s strikers last season, scoring 17 goals in 38 appearances, having started the campaign with many doubting the 31-year-old – who had played all his football at a lower level – would be able to hack it in the top flight.
In the end, he proved one of the league’s most successful strikers and Lambert sees him as the perfect foil for former Black Cat Darren Bent.
Bent’s all-time favourite strike partner was Kenwyne Jones, during their time together at the Stadium of Light, and Lambert sees the burly Holt as just the sort of forward who could offer the physical presence which could bring the best out of Bent.
Holt has submitted a transfer request and seems destined to leave Carrow Road this summer but Lambert will need all his skills of negotiation if he is to succeed in turning the striker into a Villan.
Norwich, still smarting about the controversial nature of Lambert’s departure, will be reluctant to sell to the Scot.
And Lambert already faces competition from West Ham, with Sam Allardyce tabling a £4m bid.
If Villa are to succeed, they are likely to have to make a bid Norwich will struggle to refuse.
That means owner Randy Lerner having to dig deep.
And, with the American already on a cost-cutting drive, that would all but guarantee Agbonlahor’s sale being a necessary part of any successful move for Holt.
Sunderland will hope that puts them in the driving seat.
Although O’Neill left Villa in acrimonious circumstances, he has a great relationship with Lambert, who revealed last season he still calls his former Celtic boss “gaffer”.
O’Neill is also credited with bringing the very best out of the 25-year-old Agbonlahor, who at one stage was rated in the same bracket as former team-mate Ashley Young but has failed to fulfil his potential in the last couple of seasons.
Agbonlahor scored only five goals in 32 appearances in 2011/12, having previously been a player who regularly scored double figures.
And the forward, who started his career at Villa as a trainee, is likely to welcome a reunion with his former boss.
Sunderland have settled themselves in for the long haul in their pursuit of Agbonlahor but will watch closely the events of the next few days, with the likelihood being that any successful move by Villa for Holt will hasten Agbonlahor’s departure.