Sunderland’s Martin O’Neill close to a breakthrough

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MARTIN O’Neill insists Sunderland are doing their “utmost” to land new recruits, despite maintaining his silence on the Black Cats’ pursuit of wantaway Steven Fletcher.

O’Neill refused to comment on Sunderland’s hunt for Wolves striker Fletcher at the conclusion of last night’s 1-1 draw at Derby County after a day in which the summer-long transfer saga took yet more twists.

Fletcher submitted a written transfer request to Wolves chief executive Jez Moxey and manager Stale Solbakken yesterday afternoon after Sunderland’s improved £12million offer for the 25-year-old was turned down by the Molineux outfit.

The former Hibs and Burnley frontman is understood to be eager to move to the Stadium of Light, yet Sunderland have just nine days before the Premier League opener at Arsenal to boost their attacking options.

But Sunderland boss O’Neill remains confident that the transfer market is set for an imminent upturn in activity, as he looks to add to sole summer signing Carlos Cuellar.

On Fletcher, O’Neill said: “I couldn’t comment on that, it’s not my job to comment on other club’s players.”

On Sunderland’s hunt for further signings, he added: “I said a couple of weeks ago that we have made bids for a number of players. And really, things have kind of stabilised and not really moved forward that much.

“We know we want to strengthen the side and need to strengthen the side.

“But I’ll see how things develop. We can only do so much.

“We know we have work to do and we’re trying to get there and get a proper squad and we’ll do our utmost to do that.

“We’ve got a few weeks in which to work. There’s been a bit of a lull.

“But I said the other day, it’s only a matter of time before there’s real genuine movement.”

Fletcher, who has featured just once in pre-season – supposedly due to an ankle injury, has made it clear to Wolves’ hierarchy that he wants to leave Molineux and did not take part in training yesterday.

But Wolves remain determined to keep Fletcher in the Black Country and are now understood to have rejected three bids totalling £10m, £11m and £12m from Sunderland.

Sunderland’s last offer was thought to have been a “take it or leave it” bid, but Fletcher’s formal declaration of his eagerness to leave the club may change the situation.

Fletcher tweeted yesterday: “Just handed in a transfer request. Just to let the fans know where I am right now... #headsgone.”

That was followed by a statement from Wolves which read: “Wolves can confirm that Steven Fletcher has handed in an official transfer request.

“The player’s frustration stems from the fact that several bids have been rejected for his services, none of which meets the club’s valuation.

“As previously stated, no player will leave Wolves unless the club’s valuation is met. Wolves will be making no further comment at this time.”

Meanwhile, O’Neill insists he has heard nothing of speculation linking Sunderland utility man Kieran Richardson with QPR after reports that a bid had been submitted for the 27-year-old.