Sunderland have parted company with ladies head coach Carlton Fairweather.
The 55-year-old had worked as the boss of the Lady Black Cats for the last two seasons after taking over from Mick Mulhern, who left after guiding Sunderland to the top flight in 2014.
Fairweather, who had been employed as a coach in the club's Academy, stepped up to Ladies head coach, guiding the side to fourth place in their first season in the Women's Super League in 2015.
Last season was a struggle to avoid the drop, the team finishing seventh in the WSL1 table while reaching the Women's FA Cup final where they lost heavily at Arsenal.
The sudden departure of Fairweather comes as a shock with the manager having been preparing the squad for the start of the WSL1 Spring Series in April.
Sunderland AFC announced last month their decision to operate the ladies set-up as a part-time operation in a cost-cutting exercise, though Fairweather's role was expected to remain unchanged given a number of contracted players remained and were training day-times, not to mention preparation work for games.
However, it is understood the club's bosses approached the former Wimbledon star to carry on as the head coach, but only a part-time basis, an option he turned down.
Sunderland were involved in a behind-closed-doors friendly at the weekend with Celtic, but Fairweather was not involved, with Development coach Amber Whitely taking charge of the team.
The departure of the Londoner is another huge set-back for Sunderland Ladies, who have seen a number of star players depart to WSL1 rivals, including Beth Mead, Brooke Chaplen and Rachel Furness.
But the Lady Black Cats seemed to be on the front foot last week when they unveiled new signings Dominique Bruinenberg and Anke Preuss.
Given both came to Wearside with great pedigrees and international experience, it looked a statement of intent from the club.
Keeper Preuss, a Champions League winner, arrived from Frankfurt in the Bundesliga while Dutch midfielder Bruinenberg had been playing in Serie A with ASGM Verona.
The two 24-year-olds were even pictured with a happy and relaxed Fairweather at training last Thursday night at the Academy of Light.
However, it is understood the head coach has already left the club, casting further doubts on the future of women's football at Sunderland.