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INGHAM ASKS TO LEAVE

FRUSTRATED Sunderland goalkeeper Michael Ingham was on the verge of handing in a transfer request today.

The Northern Ireland international has seen himself pushed further down the pecking order by the arrival on loan of Estonian international Mart Poom.

Ingham had hoped to get his chance to impress at the Stadium of Light with Thomas Sorensen and Thomas Myhre out until the new year.

But the arrival of Poom on a two-month loan from Derby County has forced his hand and his agent, Paul Bielby, said a transfer request was being handed in today.

Bielby said: "Michael has confidence that he could stand the test of Premiership football and committed himself to Sunderland until 2005 because he wanted to make his mark here.

"He was told at the start of the season that he would be number three keeper, but the arrival of Mart Poom effectively suggests he's number five choice - behind Sorensen, Myhre, Jurgen Macho and now Poom.

"The injuries to Sorensen and Myhre meant the option was there for Michael to be called upon, but he wasn't and now another goalkeeper has been brought on loan.

"He's 22 now and has been in a number of international squads, but his career is not going to progress unless he plays games. After three years at the club, he feels frustrated not to have had more opportunities.

"The fact that Sunderland got special dispensation to bring Poom on loan outside the transfer window would appear to suggest a lack of confidence in Michael, so he feels it is in everyone's best interests if he asks for a move."

At the time of going to press, Sunderland said they had no knowledge of a transfer request from the player. A club spokesperson said: "Michael has been in to speak to Howard Wilkinson about his situation, but there was no transfer request."

Ingham signed a new contract at the end of last season but the writing was on the wall for him when Sunderland asked the Premiership for special permission to bring in a loan keeper.

He has had loans at Stoke City and Stockport County this year, but didn't get a game for the Potters and played only once for Stockport.

Signed from Cliftonville Reds three years ago, Ingham's only first team appearance for Sunderland was in the 4-2 Worthington Cup defeat at Sheffield Wednesday early last season.

He suffered a setback soon after when he was hit by a kidney problem which kept him out for long periods last season.

Sunderland could make a permanent move for Poom if the Estonian does well during his two months here.

Derby may want up to 4million, although their bargaining position is not strong as they have serious cash problems.