Belfast Telegraph

Martin O'Neill tipped for Sunderland

By Graham Luney

Martin O’Neill has been quickly installed as red hot favourite to be the new Sunderland boss — while sacked Steve Bruce is now in the running to become the new Northern Ireland manager.

Bruce became the first Premier League manager to lose his job this season after Sunderland chairman Ellis Short described results as “simply not good enough”.

The door has now opened for O’Neill to make his return to club management — and former Sunderland hero Kevin Phillips says the Northern Ireland legend is the right man to transform the club’s fortunes. Former Aston Villa and Celtic manager O'Neill is a boyhood Sunderland fan and will see the Stadium of Light challenge as one to relish.

And Phillips has pleaded with the Black Cats board to get out the welcome mat for the 59-year-old.

He said: “I hear Martin O’Neill is the clear favourite and I think that would be a great acquisition for the club.”

Bruce could now enter the Northern Ireland frame. Former Manchester United hero Bruce has connections here with a grandmother from Groomsport while his centre back son Alex, on loan from Leeds to Huddersfield, has now declared for Northern Ireland after friendly appearances for the Republic.

The 27-year-old centre-back is currently on loan at Huddersfield Town from Leeds United.

Saturday's home defeat to Wigan — who started the day bottom of the table — left Sunderland 16th in the league, just two points above the relegation zone.

Bruce insisted he had no intention of walking away from the club, despite fans calling for his head.

But chairman and owner Short decided that he had seen enough after Wigan snatched a last-minute winner which means the Black Cats have won just two of their last 15 league games at the Stadium of Light.

Short said: “This has been a difficult time for everyone at Sunderland and is not a situation that any of us envisaged or expected to be in.

“It is my job as chairman to act in the best interests of our football club at all times and I can assure everyone that this is not a decision I have taken lightly.

“Sadly results this season have simply not been good enough and I feel the time is right to make a change.

“Steve has acted with honesty and integrity throughout, which is testament to the character and commitment he has shown during his time at Sunderland.

“I would like to personally place on record my thanks to him for his significant contribution to our football club over the past two and a half years and everyone here at Sunderland naturally wishes him the very best for the future.

“I would also like to thank our fans, who have endured a trying start to the season. Their support continues to be the driving force behind our club and is vital as we now look to the future.”

Assistant manager Eric Black will take charge of the team while the search for a new manager begins.

The Black Cats travel to Wolves on Sunday.

While O'Neill is the early favourite to replace Bruce, other names in the frame include Mark Hughes and Rafael Benitez.

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