Fulham in Petrov hunt after £1m Niemi deal

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The Independent Football

Fulham plan to follow yesterday's £1m signing of goalkeeper Antti Niemi by this week making an improved offer of up to £4m for Celtic midfielder Stilian Petrov. They are also monitoring whether Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink is allowed to leave Middlesbrough.

Fulham will, however, do well to land either player. Petrov, whose contract runs out in June 2007, is closer to a new deal at Celtic than was previously thought. The Bulgarian is also believed to favour a move to Everton if he leaves while Blackburn Rovers are also interested in the 26-year-old.

Hasselbaink would like to quit Middlesbrough after falling out of favour. But although he has six months left on his contract, and is unlikely to be offered another one, Boro are unwilling to let him go because of their proximity to the relegation zone. The 33-year-old former Chelsea striker would favour a move back to London, and Fulham, although Charlton Athletic are also interested.

Charlton's prime target is still the Norwich City striker Dean Ashton although they face stiff competition from Manchester City, Wigan Athletic, West Ham and Portsmouth. Charlton are prepared to offer £5m plus striker Kevin Lisbie although Norwich are holding out for at least £7m for the 22-year-old.

Fulham's interest in Petrov and Hasselbaink - they also may take Austrian international striker Sanel Kuljic on trial - shows they are willing to give Chris Coleman the resources to reach his goal of finishing in the Premiership's top 10 this season. He has already signed New Zealand midfielder Simon Elliott and goalkeeper Tony Warner.

There may, however, be pressure to sell with interest remaining from Manchester City in Steed Malbranque although he is only likely to leave London for a Champions' League club. Aston Villa may also renew their interest in Zat Knight.

Fulham had offers for Petrov rejected last summer. The midfielder, who joined Celtic in 1999, has been pushing for pay parity with some of the club's highest earners such as John Hartson. Negotiations, however, have dragged on for more than three months.

With the signing of Niemi, Coleman has five goalkeepers on his books. The Finn has agreed a two-and-a-half-year deal with Fulham, who beat off competition from Charlton to secure the 33-year-old from Southampton.

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