The Irishman has performed miracles since taking over from Steve Bruce at the Stadium of Light at the start of December lifting the club away from danger and into the top half of the table. Despite their upturn in form O’Neill still wants to strengthen his squad starting at the back and has made Collins his number one target.
With first choice pairing Titus Bramble and Wes Brown sidelines with injury the Black Cats chief has had to partner Matthew Kilgallon alongside Michael Turner and John O’Shea in recent weeks and is desperate to bring in some proven Premier League cover. Collins certainly fits the bill having starred for both West Ham and Villa in the top-flight forming one of the divisions most effective partnerships with Richard Dunne during his three years in the Midlands.
A move to Wearside could now be in the offing despite the Wales international winning his place back under new boss Alex McLeish after being dumped onto the bench last season by Gerard Houllier. It was O’Neill who initially brought him to Villa Park in 2009 and it’s thought the prospect of linking up with him again appeals to the 28-year-old.
Owner Ellis Short has released an unspecified amount of money into the Sunderland transfer kitty for O’Neill to strengthen the squad and it looks as if Collins will be the first signing of his reign in the North East. A fee of £2 million has been mooted although it’s likely Villa would command slightly more as they would need to bring in a replacement before the transfer window slams shut.