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MARTIN O'NEILL last night blitzed the transfer market to bring two new players to Parkhead before the UEFA Cup signing deadline.

One of his targets - Aston Villa's Alan Thompson - can't play in Europe this season after being cup-tied but O'Neill wants Hibs striker Didier Agathe signed by 4pm today in order to face HJK Helsinki later this month.

And he is now desperately chasing a goalkeeper to complete a treble swoop. He has narrowed his choice down to two - one of whom is Sunderland's Danish internationalist Thomas Sorensen.

O'Neill met Agathe and Thompson yesterday after agreeing fees with their clubs. He will pay Villa pounds 2.75million for Geordie midfielder Thompson and Hibs will get pounds 50,000 for Agathe if he signs before the UEFA deadline.

The swoop for the Frenchman was a major surprise but O'Neill has been impressed with Agathe's form since his move from Raith Rovers to Hibs in the summer and wants him to augment his strikeforce.

The former Montpellier attacker's Easter Road contract expires on October 2, so Hibs

have agreed reluctantly to cash in on him after he refused their offer of a new three- year deal.

Boss Alex McLeish is upset to have lost the player, particularly as Agathe would have become one of the best paid at the club.

But having lost Kenny Miller to Rangers, he is resigned to seeing another of his strike stars move to an Old Firm club. McLeish said: "We have given Celtic permission to speak to Didier. It is one of these things. Players want to go to the bigger clubs."

Sports Record revealed on July 5 Villa midfielder Thompson was on O'Neill's wish-list. Last night the Hoops manager finally sat the player down to talk personal terms after agreeing the fee with Villa.

Thompson's agent, Paul Stretford, said: "We are in the process of agreeing personal terms with Celtic and I would envisage it would all be sorted out fairly soon."

Thompson's appearance for Villa in the InterToto Cup against Celta Vigo has scuppered his chances of playing in Europe for Celtic this season - and his sending off in that match has ruled him out of the first three games next year.

But O'Neill has insisted all along his priority this season is the domestic front and believes Thompson will be a huge asset.

Villa boss John Gregory also believes that a change of club will bring the best out of the 26-year-old.

He said: "If Martin brings out the best in Alan, then nobody will be more pleased than me.

"Alan could even push himself back towards the fringes of England's senior squad because we all know Kevin Keegan is desperately short of left-sided players. That wouldn't embarrass me in the slightest - in fact, I would be delighted.

"I am fully aware of Alan's ability. It is simply a case that he could not produce as well as we both wished in Villa colours."

The goalkeeping situation is also one which is occupying O'Neill's thoughts, despite Jonathan Gould's good start to the season.

The manager has seen top target Richard Wright sign a new deal at Ipswich and also lost out on bringing Manchester United's Mark Bosnich to the club.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Mccarthy, David
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Sep 1, 2000
Previous Article:Football: SPORTS HOTLINE: DAVID McCARTHY TAKES YOUR CALLS; De Boer joy makes up for the Hart-ache.
Next Article:Football: O'NEILL GOES TIC FOR TAT; Celts boss matches his rivals' transfer frenzy.

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