O'Neill closes in on £3.5m deal to sign Knight

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The Independent Football

Aston Villa are hoping to complete the £3.5m signing of Fulham defender Zat Knight before Friday's transfer deadline.

Birmingham-born Knight was due to have a medical with Villa last night and, providing there were no problems, he was due to become Martin O'Neill's fourth signing of the summer.

Knight signed a new three-year deal with the west London club earlier in the summer but Fulham manager Lawrie Sanchez is prepared to let the 27-year-old leave after eight years at Craven Cottage.

O'Neill has wanted to bring in a new centre-back to provide competition for former captain Olof Mellberg, injury worry Martin Laursen and the inexperienced Gary Cahill.

Knight was signed by Kevin Keegan for Fulham in 1999 and he forced his way into the England Under-21 side and then the full squad.

He made his England senior debut as a replacement for Sol Campbell against the United States in Chicago in May 2005 and three days later completed 90 minutes against Colombia in New York.

O'Neill has kept tabs on Knight throughout the summer and he has come more to the fore after the Villa manager became frustrated in his attempts to sign West Bromwich Albion defender Curtis Davies.

O'Neill has not given up hope in that direction and may make another bid before the transfer window closes but offers of £6m and £8m have fallen short of the Baggies' valuation of the player who is also wanted by Tottenham.

Knight unintentionally gave Villa a helping hand in their 2-1 win over Fulham on Saturday, deflecting a shot from Ashley Young past Kasey Keller for the equaliser.

The other main priority for O'Neill in the next 72 hours is to secure a right-back after the departure of Aaron Hughes to Fulham and Mark Delaney's retirement.

He has been employing midfielder Craig Gardner in the role in the opening four Premier League games but that is only a short-term solution. O'Neill has been linked with Chelsea's out-of-favour defender Glen Johnson.

Villa captain Gareth Barry has admitted he is desperate to win major silverware for the first time since his schooldays.

Barry helped his school team in Hastings to win the English Schools FA Cup at Under-16 level a decade ago before moving to Villa a year later. But that was the England midfielder's last significant taste of success, although he was part of the Villa squad beaten by Chelsea in the 2000 FA Cup final.

Barry believes Villa are long overdue some glory. He said: "I don't suppose winning the Intertoto Cup with Villa counts, so the last time I won a proper cup was when I was at school. We won the schools FA Cup at Molineux on penalties.

"It was something I'll always look back on fondly and have as a great memory, but I would like to now add to my trophies with Villa. It would be nice to pick up a trophy along the way.

"It's a while since we had a really good run. We came close one year in the League Cup when we just lost over two legs to Bolton. But we are due a good cup run."

Barry added: "If ever I get the chance to lead Villa out at a Wembley final, and get my hands on a major trophy, then it will be a dream come true for me."

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