SUNDERLAND are ready to plunge straight into the transfer market after being taken by surprise over Darren Bent’s exit strategy.
There have been suggestions that chairman Niall Quinn and manager Steve Bruce were braced for their star striker’s decision to leave and already had irons in the fire.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
Aston Villa’s bid late last week would have been rebuffed had Bent’s written transfer request on Sunday and subsequent talks with the striker the same night not made it clear he had his heart set on the move.
The club saw Bent as a key part of their plans, having already quietly knocked back interest from Turkish side Fenerbahce last summer, and had no intention of selling him either in this transfer window or the next.
In the face of Bent’s determination to leave, the club decided not to try keeping a player who was unhappy at the idea of staying.
But that has left them with the difficult decision of not only finding a replacement but finding one within a fortnight!
Bent’s departure will leave Steve Bruce with only fit striker, in the shape of record signing Asamoah Gyan.
Danny Welbeck, inset, saw a specialist yesterday to assess his recovery from a hamstring strain suffered against Aston Villa in the first week of January but it is unlikely he’ll be back in time for this week’s trip to Blackpool.
The on-loan Man United star is expected to be available for Sunderland’s next league game - the match against Chelsea on Tuesday, February 1 – but that still leaves Sunderland exposed and the club will look to bring in another striker before the close of the January transfer window.
Three names that fans can dismiss out of hand are Michael Owen, Robbie Keane and John Utaka but with Sunderland gunning for their highest ever Premier League finish, Bruce knows he needs to find some reinforcements and quickly.
Of the £24m Sunderland will eventually receive for Bent, close to £5m will be earmarked for Tottenham Hotspur who had a sell-on clause inserted in the deal which originally brought Bent to Sunderland.
But Bruce is likely to avoid the temptation to panic buy and so instead of a big money permanent signing, Sunderland fans should not be surprised if one or two high-profile loan signings arrive before the club looks to rebuild in the summer.
Suggestions that Sunderland will look to push through a permanent signing of Danny Welbeck are ill-informed.
The sale of Welbeck is simply not on the table, with Sir Alex Ferguson seeing the young forward as an important member of his squad next season, much in the way that Jonny Evans was never going to be allowed to sign full-time for Sunderland, despite two happy loan spells at the club.
As the Echo revealed earlier this month, Bruce had targeted two potential signings in the current window – midfielders Stephane Sessegnon of Paris St Germain and Sulley Muntari of Inter Milan.
As of today, he’ll be adding at least one, maybe two strikers to his list.