MARTIN O’Neill and Mark Hughes are locked in a two-man race for the Sunderland manager’s job in the wake of Steve Bruce’s sacking last night.
And the Echo understands the club wants a replacement in as soon as possible, preferably in time for Sunday’s important basement battle at Mick McCarthy’s Wolves.
In the immediate wake of Bruce’s dismissal, after just two-and-a-half years in charge, Eric Black has been appointed caretaker manager.
He is provisionally scheduled to take the club’s pre-match Press conferences on Friday morning and be in the dugout at Molineux.
But Sunderland are pressing to have Bruce’s long-term replacement in place in the next 24 hours and in charge of the team in time for match day.
A host of names have now been linked with the job, but the club will decide between Hughes and O’Neill as Bruce’s successor.
O’Neill was the man that Niall Quinn wanted to take over Sunderland from the first day he took charge of Sunderland.
The Drumaville Consortium wanted Roy Keane and eventually got their way after O’Neill pondered the job all summer before finally turning the Wearsiders down.
The Irishman is currently in pole position, with the club aware he is the fans’ choice and the obvious practical and romantic appointment.
O’Neill’s prickly relationship with Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner in the closing days of his time at Villa Park will not prevent fellow American Ellis Short appointing him as Sunderland boss if the two of them can come to an understanding how to take the Black Cats forward.
But Sunderland will not allow themselves to be kept waiting this time.
O’Neill either wants the job and wants it now, or Sunderland will switch their attention to Hughes, who is in no doubt that he wants to become the third successive Manchester United hero to take over the management of the club.
O’Neill was believed to be in London yesterday to discuss the possibility of succeeding Bruce, while Hughes is set for talks this afternoon, with the club not entertaining at this stage thoughts of any other candidate.
Sunderland respect the merits of both men.
O’Neill has a glittering CV of achievement, notably at Leicester and Celtic, and an affinity for the North Eastern club he followed as a schoolboy; Hughes has a proven track record of success on modest budgets – something which could be particularly useful with the club’s big spending days seemingly over for the moment.
But what is uppermost on the club’s mind is that as soon as it decides which is the right man for the job, they want him in place as soon as possible.
Eric Black could have the briefest caretaker reign in the club’s history.