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Sunderland set to sign Blues' Gardner

Sunderland boss Steve Bruce is closing in on Birmingham midfielder Craig Gardner.

• Gyan rejects exit talk
•  Black Cats sign Westwood and Larsson

The 24-year-old is close to agreeing a move to the Black Cats in the wake of the Blues' relegation from the Premier League at the end of last season.

Gardner, a lifelong Blues fan who began his career with derby rivals Aston Villa, has been in Bruce's sights for some time and the Black Cats registered their interest in him earlier this month.

He was part of the side which lifted the Carling Cup in February with a famous 2-1 victory over Arsenal, a match in which he was outstanding, as he was for much of the last season despite Birmingham's relegation.

New Blues boss Hughton admitted as he was unveiled earlier this week that he was expecting several of his high-profile players to go, and much as he had to when he took over at Newcastle, he may have to wait to discover which men he can retain before he can plot the way forward.

Bruce turned his attention to Gardner after selling England international Jordan Henderson to Liverpool in a move worth almost £20million, and with Bolo Zenden and Sulley Muntari having also left the club, he has a rebuilding job to do in midfield.

He has already landed former City winger Sebastian Larsson who, like Coventry goalkeeper Keiren Westwood, will formally complete a Bosman free transfer on July 1.

Meanwhile, Birmingham's board have reacted angrily to reports suggesting they interfered in the transfer policy of former boss Alex McLeish.

Blues have issued a new statement insisting they operate a "robust system" under which every completed transfer is signed off by the manager.

The club claim in the statement by way of example that interest in players such as former Liverpool striker Ryan Babel, who is now in Germany with Hoffenheim, Peter Odemwingie, the Nigerian forward who plays for West Brom, and Stoke winger Jermaine Pennant was not followed up because McLeish did not want to sign them. The Scot resigned from his role with Birmingham earlier this month before joining bitter rivals Aston Villa.

Birmingham are involved in a legal dispute over McLeish's exit and subsequent arrival at Villa, while the Scot has claimed he did not have a free hand in transfer dealings and that the dismissal of the club's chief scout Paul Montgomery contributed to his decision to resign.

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