SUNDERLAND have turned down a bid by Birmingham City to take Craig Gardner back to St Andrew’s on loan.
The Brummie midfielder has struggled to settle in the North East since his £5m summer move from the Blues and that has alerted just about every major club in the West Midlands who are keen to offer him a way home.
Mick McCarthy’s Wolves and Roy Hodgson’s West Brom have both been strongly linked with the 25-year-old.
But former Newcastle boss Chris Hughton, now at Birmingham is the only manager to have directly approached Sunderland – receiving a polite but firm ‘no’ from the Black Cats with manager Martin O’Neill making it clear he wants Gardner to stay on Wearside.
“Birmingham asked us, politely, about a loan and we answered politely,” said O’Neill.
O’Neill worked with Gardner at Aston Villa before selling him to Birmingham but has been quick to point out that that was because three England internationals – Ashley Young, Stewart Downing and Gabby Agbonlahor – were ahead of him at the time, rather than doubt over the midfielder’s ability.
Having rebuffed the loan offer from Birmingham, O’Neill now hopes he can hang on to the midfielder beyond the transfer window.
“I’ve spoken to Craig about the Birmingham interest and he is fine with it,” he said.
“The crowd is right on his side, everybody wants him to stay here and I’m hoping that will be the case.
“Like anything else, you never know – especially if there are calls from the Midlands.
“But as time ticks down and we don’t have any adequate replacement, and we really don’t have enough people in that position to allow these things to happen, I’m hoping we can cross the line without anything happening.”
Since taking over the Sunderland job last month, O’Neill has been at pains to point out that he took the job without reference to any transfer budget that might or might not be available.
And he entered the New Year playing down any talk of major squad strenghtening saying that, at best, the likelihood might be of one or two players coming in as cover as insurance against an already stretched squad being extended to breaking point.
With less than a fortnight to go now until the window closes, the situation has not changed.
“The transfer market has been very quiet so far but it might hot up towards the end,” he said. “It generally does.
“We might as well still be at least passively interested, if nothing else. But we’ll see what develops.
“My only concern would be that when February comes round, that would be it.
“The squad you have then has to last you for the rest of the season.”
Senegalese striker Papiss Cisse claimed earlier this week that Sunderland were interested in him before he completed a move from German side Freiburg to Newcastle but Cisse has never been on O’Neill’s radar.
Former manager Steve Bruce had the striker looked at but never made a bid.
“I have been told about the media stories but we never made any enquiry about Cisse,” he confirmed.