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Sunderland target keen to move on
SUNDERLAND have been encouraged to make an offer for midfielder Steven N'Zonzi after Blackburn Rovers confirmed he wants to leave.
The Black Cats are known to be the front-runners for the Frenchman, although the Ewood Park club are reluctant to let him leave because of the positive impact he could have on the Championship next season.
Sunderland have been examining their options in the transfer market all summer and, as well as recruiting someone to lead the line, Martin O'Neill would like to bring in another middle-man.
N'Zonzi is high on O'Neill's list of targets, but is keen for Blackburn to reduce an asking price which currently sits at around the £10m mark.
The 23-year-old still has three years remaining on his contract so Blackburn are in a pretty strong bargaining position.
Rovers know they will receive substantial parachute payments from the Premier League for their first season outside the top-flight, which reduces the need to sell on the cheap this summer.
However, Blackburn boss Steve Kean is happy to consider offers that arrive for N'Zonzi and he did not join his team-mates for a pre-season training camp to Austria.
Kean said: "He's asked for a transfer, hence why he never went to Austria. He doesn't want to play for the club any longer. I've had meetings with his father and he wants to play elsewhere.
"We'll be listening to offers but as it stands he remains under contract and we haven't had any offers at all."
Sunderland are also keen on N'Zonzi's Blackburn team-mate Junior Hoilett but do not expect to win the race for his signature. Hoilett's preferred destination is Germany, although Aston Villa have shown an interest.
Sunderland will play their first pre-season game of the summer today when they play Seongnam in the Peace Cup.
And £8.1m striker Connor Wickham, aware of O'Neill's intention to bring in a new target-man to replace Nicklas Bendtner, is keen to prove he has the ability to succeed at the Stadium of Light.
"There's an opportunity there with Nicklas leaving," Wickham told Sunderland's official website from Korea where he is hoping to play at the Suwon Stadium.
"Everyone is fighting for a place in the starting XI. For me, Nick's gone and there's only a few strikers out here, so, for me, it's a good chance to maybe score a few goals.
"As much as I can. I just want to cement my place and show the manager that I can start games. Last season wasn't really my best season and I didn't play a lot of football.
"But this pre-season I've come back fit and I feel good, I feel stronger. Hopefully I can cement my place and start a few games next season."
Sunderland's young full-back Michael Liddle has completed a permanent move to Accrington Stanley.
The 22-year-old left-back made 12 appearances for the League Two side on loan last season.
* Sunderland have released ticket details for their game against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium next month.
The Black Cats' first game of the 2012-13 Barclays Premier League season will be played on Saturday, August 18 and season card holders can now apply for tickets.
Current season card holders have until 5pm on Thursday, August 2 to apply, either online or direct at the Stadium of Light ticket office. Supporters are advised that tickets will be allocated via the loyalty system and applying does not guarantee a ticket.
Tickets are priced at £25.50 for adults, £11 for over-65s and £10 for under-16s. General sale will commence from 10am on Thursday, August 9, subject to availability.