STEVE BRUCE is refusing to break up the Premier League’s leading strike partnership, despite today’s opponents Stoke City being linked with a £12m bid for Kenwyne Jones.
Bruce labelled reports of Stoke’s interest in Jones, Sunderland’s top scorer last season, as “bizarre” but Potters’ boss Tony Pulis is known to retain strong interest in the Trinidad and Tobago international and is also keen to land Collins.
While the Sunderland manager confirmed that he’s accepted bids from Ipswich Town for Grant Leadbitter and Carlos Edwards, his response to enquiries from rival clubs for other members of his squad have been met with a firm rejection.
Bruce confirmed he is in no mood to end Jones’ partnership with Darren Bent, which is currently the most productive in the top flight with both strikers netting two goals apiece.
Asked about Pulis’ pursuit of Jones, he replied: “It seemed bizarre to me. I have worked so hard to get Bent in and (Frazier) Campbell and Kieron Richardson playing off the front.
“The last thing I will do is disrupt that. We have to evaluate who we let out and how many. The only bid we have is from Ipswich. There have been several enquiries and we have said ‘no chance’.”
Edwards and Leadbitter have been given permission to discuss personal terms with Roy Keane after the Ipswich manager had a bid accepted for the pair, who have been deemed surplus to requirements following Bruce’s overhaul of the squad.
But the manager confirmed there has been no recent interest from any club in signing Nyron Nosworthy or Daryl Murphy.
Edwards has struggled to adapt to the Premier League after being a key figure in the club’s promotion campaign under Keane three years ago and his departure would come as no surprise. The club’s willingness to release Leadbitter, the biggest success story of Sunderland’s Academy, would be a more controversial move.
The midfielder has made over 100 first team appearances for the team he’s supported since he was first taken to Roker Park as a toddler and Bruce recently declared his intention to keep the Chesterle- Street-born player.
But Leadbitter is known to be keen to make a fresh start away from Wearside after suffering the bereavement of his father last year.
“I really like Grant Leadbitter,”
revealed Bruce. “There comes a time when he wants to play and be number one on the team sheet. I understand where he is coming from. I have given him the chance to go and play.
“If it doesn’t happen at Ipswich I would be delighted to have him back. I couldn’t offer him what he needed and he was disappointed I brought in Cattermole and Cana. He is Sunderland through and through.
“He beats himself up so badly when he doesn’t play. I have told him it is his call.”
Bruce expects to bring in two more players, one of which is Ghana centre-half John Mensah, who is awaiting visa clearance, before the transfer window closes.
That figure could rise if, as expected, more players leave the club before Tuesday’s deadline.
After ending his interest in defenders Sylvain Distin and Richard Dunne and striker Maroune Chamakah, Bruce admitted to making an enquiry for £6m-rated Michael Turner of Hull City.
“We have registered an interest in the boy, but that’s as far as it’s gone as far as I am aware at the moment. We have a few on the go. John Mensah and a couple of irons in the fire. I am reluctant to talk about individuals as it is disrespectful,” noted Bruce, who believed that Distin’s £6.5m price tag represented poor value for a 31-year-old.
Paul McShane is close to agreeing personal terms on a £1.5m move to Hull, while Roy O’Donovan is also expected to exit.