Sunderland have options if Downing joins Middlesbrough

Stewart Downing
Stewart Downing
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Sunderland have identified alternative options for the attacking central midfield role, if Stewart Downing’s proposed move to Middlesbrough goes through.

Downing looks increasingly likely to make an emotional return to boyhood club Boro, with the Championship outfit in advanced talks with West Ham over the transfer fee for the 30-year-old.

Sunderland have had to reconsider their options for one of three key positions Advocaat wants to strengthen as a priority.

Sunderland saw a bid turned down by the Hammers earlier this month for Downing after he had been earmarked by Dick Advocaat and Lee Congerton as a solution to the Black Cats’ search for an injection of creativity.

While Sunderland remain in advanced talks with Dynamo Kiev over Dutch international winger Jeremain Lens, Downing was an additional target, rather than an alternative.

The Echo understands Advocaat’s plan was to use Downing as one of the central midfield trio – where he thrived for West Ham last season – while Lens occupied the vacant position on the left flank.

But with Downing now looking Boro-bound, Sunderland have had to reconsider their options for one of three key positions Advocaat wants to strengthen as a priority, along with central defence and left wing.

It is understood that Congerton and Advocaat held discussions with their scouting team last week over potential alternatives for the central midfield role.

Chelsea midfielder Marco van Ginkel had been mentioned as a possibility earlier this summer, but Advocaat didn’t feel he was the ideal fit for the role, with the 22-year-old joining Stoke on a season-long loan last week.

Advocaat has the same reservations over Feyenoord’s Jordy Clasie, who has also been on Sunderland’s radar, with the Dutch international more of a deep-lying playmaker than an attacking midfielder.

Clasie now looks to be bound for Southampton, with Feyenoord confirming he is exploring transfer options.

But with Sunderland in advanced talks for both Lens and centre-half Nicolas Lombaerts, the central midfielder is their priority now with Advocaat realising that while the club’s strikers struggled last season, they didn’t benefit from an abundance of chances.

“We did not create a lot of chances all season, and we did not score a lot of goals,” he said last week.

“But the providing to the strikers was also not good.”

Advocaat and his squad face their first full day training in California today after flying out to North America yesterday for their pre-season tour.

But while Adam Matthews and Sebastian Coates are the only new signings Sunderland have made so far this summer, the Black Cats are making progress on deals for both Lens and Lombaerts.

Personal terms are not likely to be a problem for either, but Sunderland have faced a drawn-out process haggling over the transfer fees with Kiev and Zenit St Petersburg respectively.