BOBBY Saxton today stepped down as assistant manager as Sunderland began a shake-up of their backroom staff in readiness for next season.

Coach Adrian Heath takes over Saxton's role in a move which is expected to signal major changes to the club's style of management.

Saxton has been at the club for the past seven years and had a huge input in helping the team the First Division championship twice, once with a league record 105 points, reaching the 1997 play-off finals and helping steer the club to two seventh place finishes in the Premiership.

But after last season's disappointing showing in which relegation was only avoided on the last day of the season, the club has decided on a whole new approach for the 2002/2003 campaign.

Saxton's decades of experience will be retained, with the veteran coach taking up a new position as part of the club's football management team.

His job will involve identifying and developing young players and improving the club's scouting and recruitment network, as well as being involved in the Academy, looking at the loan system and the possibility of extending nursery club links.

Heath, in the meantime, is expected to look at re-vamping the club's approach to all aspects of player coaching.

He joined the club as reserve team coach in 1998 after managing Burnley and led the second string to the Division One and Premier Championship before leaving to become manager of Sheffield United.

He returned to Sunderland in 1999 after only half a season at Bramall Lane to help manager Peter Reid, Bobby Saxton and Ricky Sbragia coach the first team and reserve players.

Ex-Everton striker Heath has experience of continental football and training styles having played for Espanol for 18 months under Javier Clemente, who steered Spain to two World Cups after being appointed Spanish national coach in 1992.

And the new Sunderland assistant manager, always a fan of the continental style which was pioneered in this country by Arsene Wenger and Gerard Houllier, is likely to introduce similar disciplines at Sunderland.

Reid believes that the moves will help revitalise the club at all levels.

He said: "I think the new football structure will prove a massive benefit to the club in terms of experience, technical knowledge, new ideas and enthusiasm."