Sunderland chase Boro winger

Steve Bruce was at the Riverside last night to personally run the rule over Middlesbrough star Adam Johnson – as he plots moves for the January transfer window.

The impressive 22-year-old winger has been on Sunderland's radar for some time and Bruce took the opportunity presented by the game against

Derby County to watch Johnson in particular.

The Black Cats boss had been toying with a drive to Ipswich Town to see his son Alex and watch the Blues' game against Watford.

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But, in the end, he decided to make the shorter trip to Teesside and was rewarded with two goals from Johnson in the 2-0 victory over the Rams – the first, a penalty scored with his left foot; the second a brilliant curler with his right after going past four players.

Johnson has been Boro's stand-out player this season and his eight goals in 14 games have underpinned their solid start to the season which sees them now lying just two points off top spot in the Championship.

Whether the Easington-born Sunderland supporter remains at the club for the remainder of the campaign, though, remains to be seen.

Boro have held regular talks with Johnson over a contract extension, but he is yet to sign one.

His current deal ends in the summer.

With Gareth Southgate axed last night, the new Boro boss could be tempted to sell Johnson to fund other transfers.

Premier League clubs are certain to test Boro's resolve to hang on to their star man in the January transfer window and Sunderland are expected to lead the chase, although Chelsea are also known to be admirers.

Tottenham, too, have monitored his progress.

The Black Cats have had a watching brief on Boro and Newcastle's players since before both their North East rivals were relegated.

Steven Taylor and Sebastien Bassong at St James's Park were among the players who caught then manager Ricky Sbragia's eye, while, at Boro, he was impressed by Johnson, in particular, and kept track of the likes of Julio Arca and David Wheater.

Sbragia's good friend, ex-Sunderland manager Malcolm Crosby, was first-team coach at Boro last season and is well-placed to give the Black Cats the lowdown on the Teessiders' emerging stars, while midfielder Lee Cattermole, of course, is a former team-mate of Johnson's and is able to give the Sunderland coaching staff feedback on any of the club's young prospects.

Sbragia is now chief scout and Bruce, though aware of Boro's players already, will have benefited from his predecessor's input.

Despite the backing of American owner Ellis Short – who has already put more of his own money into Sunderland than all the club's previous owners put together – the Black Cats do not have a bottomless pit of money.

And having spent heavily in the summer, January spending is likely to be limited.

But money is expected to made available for one or two key signings and Johnson, who is as comfortable on the right wing as he is on the left, could be at the head of a list which also includes Wigan left-back Maynor Figueroa.