Derby rivals sweat on Seb

NEWCASTLE United's bid to sign Birmingham City midfielder Sebastian Larsson could be scuppered by his wage demands – as Sunderland wait in the wings.

The Magpies were yesterday given permission to talk to the Swedish player as Alan Pardew looks to strengthen his squad this month.

But ahead of this Sunday's Wear-Tyne derby, bitter rivals Sunderland are keeping a watching brief on the situation.

Steve Bruce originally signed Larsson for the Blues in 2007, and remains an admirer of the right-winger.

And the Black Cats are not convinced the Swedish international will move in the January transfer window as the 25-year-old looks for a new big-money deal.

Larsson is believed to be on 10,000 a week at Birmingham, and is looking for at least double that, but with owner Mike Ashley insisting that the days of big salaries at St James's Park are over, Newcastle could be priced out of a move for the player.

And with Birmingham also wanting a 1m transfer fee if the player leaves in the January transfer window, it means he will not be a cheap acquistion.

Sunderland would still be interested in a player who, as a deadball specialist, would bring something extra to Steve Bruce's squad.

The Scandinavian's delivery from corners and free-kicks would certainly add more goals, and if the player chooses to see out his contract and leave in the summer on a free transfer, Sunderland would be among the interested parties.

Larsson could still leave St Andrews this month though if the right offer is made, and City boss Alex McLeish has confirmed that the player will be allowed to talk to Alan Pardew.

But he has not given up hope of the player staying and accepting a new deal, though he accepts that is something out of his hands.

He said: "The latest with Seb is we gave his advisor permission to speak to Newcastle. Other than that, I've heard nothing.

"I know Seb would like to stay. But we'll just have to wait and see, we've hit an impasse at the moment."

However, the fact that Birmingham have swooped for David Bentley seems to show they aren't confident of holding on to Larsson this transfer window.

Tottenham and England man Bentley – who Pardew also targeted as someone he was interested in bringing to St James's Park – is set to join on loan until the end of the season.

McLeish added: "It will be good to sign him because he has got a bit of quality and class as a footballer. His delivery at set-pieces is excellent as well. He is a natural footballer."

Sunderland, meanwhile, will continue their pursuit of Paris St Germain's Stephane Sessegnon and Inter Milan's Sulley Muntari.