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Exeter City have accepted that they may be unable to hang on to Josh Key after Sunderland made a £1 million bid for the promising youngster last week, as reported by the Northern Echo. 

After failing in their attempts to bring Dion Sanderson back for a second spell at the Stadium of Light – the Wolves starlet joined Midland neighbours Birmingham City on loan instead – Sunderland have been forced to look elsewhere as their pursuit of a versatile, right-sided defender goes on.

And it seems that Exeter’s 21-year-old academy graduate will be key to Lee Johnson’s transfer plans between now and the end of August. 

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Sunderland have made a £1 million bid for a man who made 48 appearances for the Grecians as they finished ninth in League Two last term.  

A right-back by trade, Key also featured at centre-half, at left-back and on the wing in 2020/21, showcasing the sort of flexibility that could make him an important piece in the Sunderland jigsaw. 

Will Sunderland get Josh Key as Dion Sanderson’s replacement?

The Echo claims that, while Exeter turned down a seven-figure bid from Wearside, there is an acceptance that Key will be sold before the summer is out.  

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The Devon-based outfit are determined to hold out for ‘the best possible deal’, although it remains to be seen how much more Sunderland are willing to pay for a man who was plying his trade on loan for Tiverton Town as recently as last year. 

The Echo back up claims from the Sun (26 July, page 62), claiming that the Black Cats are also in talks over a deal that would see another highly-rated youngster in Jordan Gabriel arrive from Championship giants Nottingham Forest. 

22-year-old Gabriel is a target for second-tier newcomers Blackpool, however, and Forest may feel that the one-time Arsenal prospect would benefit more from testing his talents in the Championship rather than in League One. 

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