SUNDERLAND are actively pursuing the man they hope to become the next manager of the football club and hope to announce Martin O’Neill’s successor within the next 48 hours.
O’Neill left the Stadium of Light with wife Geraldine yesterday evening unaware that his 15-month tenure at the club was about to be abruptly ended.
But a phone call from owner Ellis Short later the same night confirmed that he was to be removed from his post with immediate effect.
There has been some speculation that the Irishman chose to quit after a run of eight Premier League games without a win.
But the Echo can confirm that he was sacked as Sunderland manager after 15 months in charge.
The move caught everyone by surprise but the Echo has been told that the club’s decision was not a knee-jerk one and that Short removed O’Neill after gradually becoming convinced that only drastic action might get the club to pull out of the nosedive towards the drop it has been in for the last couple of months.
Wins for Southampton and Wigan within hours of Sunderland’s lacklustre loss to Manchester United in Saturday’s early kick-off must only have strengthened the American’s conviction that events were conspiring against the Black Cats and the moment of intervention had come.
But now attention will turn towards who will be charged with the task of saving Sunderland’s Premier League status in the remaining seven games of the season.
And the Echo understands that Sunderland are already in talks with a potential target with a view to making an appointment sooner rather than later and certainly before the game against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
For that reason, no caretaker manager is expected to appointed by Sunderland, with the new man expected to be at the helm by midweek at the latest.
•For more on Sunderland and Martin O’Neill’s departure, pick up a copy of this weekend’s Football Echo.