Sunderland have been left reeling after Derek McInnes opted to reject their interest and stay with Aberdeen.
Now Preston North End boss Simon Grayson is the bookmakers’ favourite to become the new manager of Sunderland ahead of a first Championship season since 2006-07.
Last night’s dramatic developments came as 45-year-old McInnes said there is ‘still so much work to be done’ at Pittodrie.
Sunderland chief executive Martin Bain approached the Dons to speak with McInnes, but has been quickly rebuffed by the man himself.
Bain insisted it was a mutual decision, saying: “We have been in discussions with a number of potential manager candidates over recent weeks.
“In the last few days, we have been negotiating with Aberdeen Football Club in order to allow us to speak with Derek McInnes.
“Having held initial discussions, both ourselves and Derek have decided not to progress with further talks and we will continue with our recruitment process.”
Bain will now come under pressure to make a quick and unifying appointment, with Black Cats fans reeling from the shock announcement.
Grayson has been installed as the heavy favourite, with Bain having been impressed by his work in the Championship at Preston, following on from earlier stints at Huddersfield, Leeds and Blackpool.
Bain will have to convince the Ripon-born 47-year-old that he is not merely a back-up choice, however, with Grayson content at Deepdale having overacheived on a limited budget and already made a number of new signings for the coming season.
Kevin Phillips is another being mentioned with the vacancy.
The Sunderland legend currently works as a coach at Derby County, and while Bain favours an experienced campaigner for the post, it is not yet clear just how dramatically this latest setback will affect the search.
Time is against the Black Cats, with the return to pre-season training looming fast, followed by a first friendly at Bury on July 7. The Championship season begins 50 days from today, on August 5.