Sunderland 'most likely' to sign Brighton defender Jan Paul Van Hecke

Sunderland’s promising return to the Championship continued with a first clean sheet and three points against Stoke City on Saturday.
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Ahead of Norwich City’s visit on Saturday the Black Cats are now looking to conclude some more transfer business to strengthen Alex Neil’s squad.

Here, we run you through the state of play...

So where do Sunderland currently stand?

Sunderland boss Alex Neil.Sunderland boss Alex Neil.
Sunderland boss Alex Neil.

It was noticeable on Friday morning that Alex Neil's mood seemed to have improved significantly from earlier in the week, where he had clearly been feeling the frustration of Sunderland's wait for breakthroughs in the transfer market.

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The Echo asked Neil if it was fair to say he seemed a lot more optimistic that things were moving in the right direction.

The head coach responded by saying that he's only human, he wants to win games for Sunderland and signings give him the best chance of doing that. In short, then, don't read too much into his demeanour on any given day. But, yes, he said, it had been a positive week.

Not coincidentally, news broke in the aftermath of Sunderland's win at Stoke City from the north west that Blackburn Rovers had all but conceded defeat in their attempt to bring Jan Paul Van Hecke back to the club.

Though a deal is not concluded, Sunderland is now seen as the most likely destination for the 22-year-old, who will sign a contract extension at Brighton and Hove Albion before going back out on loan.

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Given that Van Hecke was named player of the year in a side that finished eighth last season, it would be a real coup for Sunderland and a boost to Neil who was eager to sign another centre back even before

Dan Ballard suffered a serious injury.

The Black Cats are also hoping to sign Costa Rican winger Jewison Bennette. Bennette has not been involved in Herediano's recent matches as all parties try to tie up what is a complex administrative process.

Neil has understandably not spoken about the youngster directly but joked last week that he'd yet to receive a postcard, with Sunderland officials believed to have spent time in Costa Rica working on the deal of late.

The 18-year-old clearly will need time to settle on Wearside if a deal is concluded, but he is already a full international and expects to go to the World Cup, so there will be hope that he can make an impact.