Sunderland turn attention to Craig Gardner

Sunderland boss Steve Bruce was last night working to tie up a move for midfielder Craig Gardner after landing teenage striker Connor Wickham.

The Black Cats quickly put their delight at seeing off the competition to snatch the 18-year-old Ipswich frontman in an £8.1million swoop yesterday to one side to concentrate on a man they hope will be one of his team-mates next season.

Birmingham's Gardner was also on Wearside for talks with Bruce keen to tie him up as quickly as possible as he closed in on a fifth summer signing following in the wake of Ahmed Elmohamady, Wickham and Bosman free transfers Keiren Westwood and Sebastian Larsson, who will formally complete their moves on Friday.

Sunderland are hopeful of being able to prise the player away from relegated City as they prepare for a promotion push with new boss Chris Hughton knowing he will lose some of his bigger-name players, just as he did during his time at Newcastle.

If nothing else, the Black Cats have issued a statement of intent in recent weeks by getting a significant proportion of their business done early.

In committing a sum which could eventually amount to £12million to secure Wickham's services, they managed to ward off the attentions of his fellow suitors to tie up a player regarded as one of the most promising home-grown prospects in the game.

Wickham, who had been linked with Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham, signed a four-year deal after heading for the north-east on Tuesday evening for a medical, and Bruce could hardly have been more delighted.

He said: "A number of top sides have been chasing Connor for some time now, so naturally we are absolutely delighted he has chosen to come to Sunderland.

"He's still very young, but at 6ft 3in he's a physical presence. With his height and style of play, he will offer us a threat in front of goal and complement our existing strikers.

"We have been watching him for a while now and he is improving and developing all the time. He's a great prospect and I'm sure our supporters will love watching him play."

Wickham himself insisted the speculation surrounding his future had not affected him adversely, but he admitted he was pleased to know where he will be playing his football next season.

He told SAFC TV: "Ever since the speculation, I have never felt pressured. I have never felt intimidated by what has gone on off the pitch or who has come in or anything like that.

"But now I am obviously relieved to have everything done. The weight has been lifted off my shoulders now.

"I can get back to playing football, and I know where I am going to be next season. I just want to play now."

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