The state of play with Sunderland's manager hunt and the credentials of key contenders considered

Heckingbottom is highly rated
Heckingbottom is highly rated
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Ten days on and the identity of Sunderland's new manager is still far from certain.

That will not sit well with many, wondering why stronger succession planning was not in place given that the writing looked to be on the wall for Simon Grayson a fortnight before the 3-3 draw with Bolton.

It is a valid criticism, and leaves optimism in thin supply that an energising appointment and significant upturn is just around the corner.

For the time being, Robbie Stockdale and Billy McKinlay lead a small cohort of players through training at the Academy of Light. International call-ups will return early next week, by which point Sunderland will hope to have a new face in place to lead the preparations for the crucial home clash with Millwall.

Martin Bain is thought to be weighing up applications with owner Ellis Short; interviews likely to take place over the weekend.

There remains a myriad of questions to be answered, a strong sense on Wearside that this is nothing short of a defining appointment both for Bain and the future of the club generally.

There is a recognition that two things are necessary. One, the stature and personality to lift a club worn down by recent toil, and secondly, an excellent coach who can improve Sunderland's wretched defensive record.

The issue is marrying that with a financial situation that has been clearly worsened by the departure of Simon Grayson (Glynn Snodin and Ian Miller have also left the club). With the prospect of investment in the playing squad in January minimal at best, it is not an easy sell to potential managers, particularly those in a stable job elsewhere.

The standing of Sunderland in the game, the facilities, fanbase and the challenge of putting it back to where it belongs is a major draw but is balanced out by the realities of where they currently stand.

For that reason, the prospect of a short-term appointment, to keep Sunderland afloat, remains a possibility. The name of Ally McCoist is not far away in any conversation about the potential identity of the new boss.

Seen as an ebullient personality, with ties to the club and the chief executive and desperate to get back into the game, McCoist is clearly in the mix.

It would be a bitterly divisive appointment, and there are major concerns over his coaching credentials given the way his Rangers side were overrun by Hearts in his final season in charge at Ibrox, unable to get back into the Scottish Premier League.

For many Sunderland supporters, and with good reason, it would be an appointment lacking ambition and imagination.

Aitor Karanka remains in many ways the outstanding candidate. His coaching credentials, particularly when it comes to the defensive side of the game, are second to none.

Sunderland will be well aware of his desire to remain in England and while it is perhaps surprising that there had been no contact as of yesterday, he will surely be considered. Whether he could be tempted to take the plunge is another matter entirely.

Karanka declined the advances of Birmingham and Alaves earlier in the season, and is unlikely to dive back into the game without assurance that his long-term goals can be met. Whether Sunderland are in a position to offer that given that there is so much uncertainty remains to be seen.

Paul Heckingbottom remains a fascinating candidate and has plenty of supporters in the game and at Sunderland.

The work he has done at Barnsley has been nothing short of astonishing, maintaining their upward curve despite the squad being gutted in virtually every transfer window. Of course, Sunderland is a different animal.

The oldest member of Heckingbottom's side in their last game was 25. Transferring that high-energy, counter-attacking style to the squad currently on Wearside will not be easy, but his ability to produce teams with such a defined style despite such a high player turnover suggests an excellent coaching talent.

He has impressed at Oakwell with his level-headedness. Perhaps much the same may have been said about Simon Grayson when he arrived in the summer, but the inescapable sense is that somewhere down the line, some club will land a superb young manager.

Sunderland's problems are deep rooted and there are no quick and easy fixes.

Nevertheless, it is abundantly clear that there is enough individual quality in the squad to get out of the more immediate predicament, providing Bain and Short can identify and secure a candidate with the ability to provide a coherent voice on the training ground.

Frustration understandably grows as the wait for white smoke continues.

Sunderland are drawing closer to the crossroads, but the direction which they will take remains unknown. Another wrong turn is not an option.