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Sunderland manager Roy Keane remains the outsider in the fight to sign Northern Ireland defender Chris Baird.

And that’s despite having a £3million offer for the player accepted by Southampton yesterday.

Instead, it is former Northern Ireland manager Lawrie Sanchez who is in pole position to land the 25-year-old defender, even though his offer last month was branded as ‘derisory’ by Saints’ boss George Burley.

Sanchez’s bid is understood to have been around half of what Sunderland are prepared to pay for the player, but he is far from out of the running.

Baird is certain to be playing his football elsewhere when the season starts in five weeks time, it is just a case of where that will be as he is determined to quit the Saints for the Premier League.

Southampton are loathe to let their Player of the Year leave the club, but they know they are fighting a losing battle.

The 25-year-old is ready to bring an end to his nine-year stay on the south-coast in order to fulfil his dream of playing regularly in the top flight.

He handed in a transfer request last month, but has been stuck in limbo until Sunderland’s bid came in yesterday.

That will now spark a flurry of activity, with Fulham stepping up their interest in the player, with Sanchez keen to team him up with fellow Northern Ireland internationals Aaron Hughes and Steve Davis who both left Aston Villa for Craven Cottage in the last week.

Blackburn Rovers have been monitoring Baird’s situation for some time, but they will only come back into the reckoning if Sanchez fails to tie up a deal.