Newcastle United's Steve Bruce says the club are prepared to move on from their summer-long chase of Arsenal's Joe Willock and have drawn up a midfield transfer Plan B – although the 21-year-old remains the Magpies' No1 target.
Newcastle have yet to make a breakthrough in the transfer window this summer and Bruce remains hopeful of getting some reinforcements into his squad.
The Magpies drew 1-1 in their latest pre-season game at Rotherham on Tuesday night, after which Bruce talked about targets and signings, including Willock who spent the second half of last season on loan at St James’s Park.
What’s the latest with Joe Willock?
Willock is a target for Ligue 1 Monaco according to reports on the continent, remains an Arsenal player despite seeing very little gametime in pre-season and his Gunners future looking increasingly likely to be away from the Emirates next season.
While United have been locked in talks with the Arsenal hierarchy about a deal to take their eight-goal loan man back this campaign, they are yet to come to an agreement.
Bruce has, however, admitted the club have been 'encouraged' in their pursuit.
And although Willock remains transfer priority No1 this summer, Bruce says the club have drawn up a list of alternatives to transform their midfield, with the head coach conceding the department needs an urgent revamp.
When asked by NationalWorld whether a Willock conclusion was edging closer, Bruce said: "Look, I've said many times now, he’s an Arsenal's player, (it's for) Joe to decide.
"But there has to be a cut-off point where we can't wait forever.
"We’ve one or two other options, of course, which would be wrong if I didn't. Obviously, Joe’s our first choice. We’re encouraged to keep bashing away, but there comes a cut-off point, yeah.”
Which other midfielders could Newcastle look to sign?
United are thought to retain an interest in Leicester City's Hamza Choudhury but any move for the player is likely to come as an aside to a Willock deal, and not dependent on it failing.
Chelsea’s Conor Gallagher, who spent last season on loan at West Bromwich Albion, is also under consideration, although a number of clubs are thought to have jumped ahead of United in negotiations, with Crystal Palace and Leeds United the current favourites to land his signature in a season-long loan deal.
Ross Barkley, at Chelsea, and Willock’s Arsenal team-mate Ainsley Maitland-Niles are others on the Magpies' list but moves for either of these players, both likely on loan, would be dependent on a switch for primary targets Gallagher and Willock not progressing.
Where else are Newcastle short of options?
While Bruce sees midfield as his primary concern, having watched Ryan Fraser, Sean Longstaff and Isaac Hayden flatter to deceive in United's 1-1 friendly draw with Rotherham, his lack of options up top was also laid bare with Joelinton injured and Allan Saint-Maximin out with an 'illness'.
With 10 minutes remaining United played Jeff Hendrick, who eventually netted the equaliser, as a lone forward, having taken off starting duo Callum Wilson, and the hugely off-the-pace Dwight Gayle.
"I didn't have any strikers," explained Bruce.
Will Newcastle look to sign another striker?
Bruce didn’t have many forward options against Rotherham but is that an area the club will strengthen? They lost Andy Carroll this summer, after all.
Bruce's answer may disappoint fans looking for increased firepower next season.
"We’ve got Allan, Joe, (Miguel) Almiron. We’ve got Dwight. We’ve got five. How many do you have in a squad of 22 outfield players?," he said.
"I’ve probably got to look at picking four goalkeepers in the squad, which is a little bit unheard of, but with the problems I’ve got there, that’s in the back of my mind at the minute.
"The midfield area is a must, in my opinion. We’ll look to try and strengthen there first. When everybody’s right, then I think we’ve got adequate cover up there.”