Everton set to snatch Johnson from under rivals' noses

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Everton last night matched the £8.5m that Wigan Athletic and Bolton Wanderers have bid for Andy Johnson and hope to agree personal terms with the 25-year-old striker later today. Johnson spent four hours yesterday talking to the Wigan manager Paul Jewell and the chairman Dave Whelan - who collected the player in his helicopter after he was released from England duty - and was said to be impressed by the club's ambition.

However, the Crystal Palace striker has made no secret that he would prefer to join Everton, who bid £6m for him last summer, and is said to be relieved that they have finally met the price demanded by his club's chairman, Simon Jordan.

His desire to move to Goodison Park could be severely tested as Everton are unlikely to come close to the £40,000-a-week that Wigan are prepared to pay Johnson, who earns £24,000-a-week at Palace. Everton are, like Bolton, also proposing a longer payment plan to Palace than Wigan who will pay the fee within 12 months. Johnson wants to link up with James Beattie, a friend of his and a guest at the Everton striker's wedding last week. But the Merseyside club have stretched themselves to the limit with their offer.

They will not have to compete with Portsmouth for Johnson, however, as the club's chairman, Milan Mandaric, yesterday withdrew from the race. Mandaric described the fee agreed as "crazy" and added: "We need to know the player can do it consistently at the highest level. If we knew that we would be happy to make that kind of investment."

Indeed Portsmouth are about to embark on a summer spending spree with up to £30m being made available. At least six players will be purchased as co-owner Alexandre Gaydamak has decided to pump more money into the club.

Redknapp, who himself agreed a new three-year deal earlier this week, will today fly to Belgrade to watch the 6ft 7in striker Nikola Zigic, who would cost £7m from Red Star Belgrade, play in a friendly for Serbia and Montenegro against Uruguay.

The Premiership club are also close to agreeing a deal to buy 23-year-old Cameroon international midfielder Achille Emana from Toulouse for £2.5m.

Portsmouth have already watched the Tunisian striker Francileudo dos Santos and Lens's Olivier Thomert, although he does not want to move to Fratton Park, while the south-coast club remains keen on Lee Hendrie, who has been told he can leave Aston Villa. A bid of £1.5m is also expected for Liverpool's Jerzy Dudek, although other experienced goalkeepers are being considered. Another target is the Hungarian under-21 defender Peter Mate from Debrecen.

Portsmouth are still attempting to conclude a deal to sign Andres D'Alessandro, who spent three months on loan from Wolfsburg, but talks have proved difficult. An alternative to the Argentinian is his countryman Julio Arca.

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