Cardiff City are bidding to steal defender Andy O'Brien from under the noses of Leeds United.
The experienced defender – on loan at Elland Road from Bolton Wanderers – held talks with United's Championship rivals yesterday over a January transfer to Wales.
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Two other unnamed Championship teams have also have expressed an interest in O'Brien.
But United will fight to keep a player who has been pivotal to their form this season.
O'Brien's deal at Leeds runs until January 4, when the Whites and
Cardiff are due to meet in a league fixture at Cardiff City Stadium. The 31-year-old came to Elland Road at the end of October with United struggling in the bottom half of their division, and he has contributed heavily to the sequence of 11 games without defeat which saw Simon Grayson's squad hold second position on Christmas Day.
O'Brien is expected to start for United against Middlesbrough as planned tomorrow, the penultimate game of his short-term loan, and Grayson confirmed his intention to reach an agreement with Bolton which keeps the former Bradford City trainee in Leeds beyond next month.
Sources in Lancashire indicated in November that a deal between Leeds and Bolton for O'Brien was all but struck, but the sudden revelation of Cardiff's interest has thrown doubt over his immediate future.
O'Brien is out of contract next summer and is not part of the first-team plans of Bolton manager Owen Coyle.
The Premier League side are open to approaches for him and have
received three approaches from England's second tier ahead of the January transfer window.
Speaking before United's clash with Middlesbrough, Grayson said: "We'd like to keep him if possible – to try and at least extend the loan to 93 days.
"The other options would be to keep him until the end of the
more permanent basis. That'll be down to Bolton but we'll be having conversations over the next few days to see where we go."
A transfer involving O'Brien and Cardiff would be a major and unexpected disappointment for Grayson, who credited the centre-back with improving the organisation and confidence of his defence.
Cardiff are short of players in O'Brien's position, however, and the club are as anxious as Leeds to shore up their squad for the second half of the season. The teams are currently level in second place in the Championship.
Grayson, meanwhile, poured cold water on rumours that Newcastle United will attempt to sign Leeds winger Max Gradel next month.
Gradel has caught the eye with eight goals this season and Grayson said: "Max is an important part of our team. I don't expect him to be going anywhere."