Sunderland are weighing up their options after being stunned by striker Darren Bent's transfer request.
Within hours of the club's 1-1 derby draw with Newcastle, the 26-year-old submitted a written request to leave the club with Aston Villa understood to have tabled a bid of £18m, which could rise to £24m with add-ons.
However, the Black Cats have accepted neither Bent's plea nor Villa's bid, and while they have not commented publicly on the matter other than to acknowledge that the striker has asked to leave, they are now considering the alternatives in front of them.
It is understood that the Black Cats will not consider dispensing with the England international's services unless any offer amounts to significantly more than £20m up front.
Bent has two years remaining on his contract at the Stadium of Light, but is understood to have asked to leave before with the club having managed to persuade him to stay in August last year.
Owner Ellis Short and chairman Niall Quinn must decide whether to take the money and try to replace their leading scorer from last season and the man currently leading the way this time around, or to try to talk around a player who has clearly signalled his intention to move on after 18 months on Wearside.
Bent's departure would represent a blow to Sunderland fans who saw him plunder 25 goals to stabilise the club in the Premier League during the last campaign and had high hopes of him firing them into Europe this season.
He scored his 11th goal of the current term against Notts County last weekend, but has only one league strike in his last eight games amid a run of indifferent form by the standards he has set himself.
Bruce spent a club record £13m-plus on Asamoah Gyan during the summer in a bid to provide Bent with some support, and if Sunderland do let him leave, he will face a race against time to replace him before the transfer window closes at the end of the month.
He has been linked with a series of targets, including Adam Johnson, Charles N'Zogbia and Stewart Downing, although the Villa winger, who had a spell on loan at the Stadium of Light earlier in his career, is not part of the deal currently on the table.
However, the Black Cats boss has repeatedly played down talk of any significant arrivals this month, although the club has tabled a bid for Paris St Germain midfielder Stephane Sessegnon after failing in an attempt to secure a loan deal.
But Bruce's focus would change markedly if Bent did leave with loan signing Danny Welbeck currently sidelined by a hamstring injury and Fraizer Campbell working his way back from a serious knee problem.