BOLTON have emerged as the favourites to sign Stephen Ireland on loan from Aston Villa until the end of the season.
The Irish Independent understands that Owen Coyle is keen to bring the Cobh native into his ranks as the Trotters look to maintain their push to qualify for European football.
Ireland has failed to settle at Villa since his summer move from Manchester City, and was criticised by manager Gerard Houllier, who publicly questioned the player's work rate.
Reports in England suggest that Houllier was put under pressure by the club hierarchy to bring Ireland back into the fold, given that he is being paid in the region of £60,000 a week.
However, the preference would be to ship the 24-year-old out before the transfer window closes, with a temporary switch the most likely course of action given his sizable salary.
Newcastle and Celtic have previously expressed interest in his services, and have asked to be kept informed of developments, but Bolton have skipped to the front of the queue.
Coyle has utilised the loan market well during his stint in management, and brought in Arsenal's Jack Wilshere last season. Now he is looking to Ireland to add guile to his midfield.