FORMER Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill last night emerged as the early hot favourite for the Sunderland job after the Premier League strugglers sacked Steve Bruce.
Ex-Wigan boss Bruce became the first top-flight casualty of the season after winning just twice in the first 13 games of the season – a run that left the Black Cats 16th and just two points above the relegation zone.
Sunderland’s decision ended weeks of uncertainty over Bruce’s future at the Stadium of Light, and came after Saturday’s home defeat to Wigan.
The club’s owner Ellis Short paid tribute to Bruce but said it had been “a difficult time for everyone”.
Short added: “It is my job to act in the best interests of our football club and I can assure everyone that this is not a decision that 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.”
O’Neill, who has also managed Celtic, Leicester and Norwich, has been out of work since quitting Villa on the eve of last season.
The Northern Irishman rejected overtures from West Ham earlier this year, before the east Londoners appointed Sam Allardyce.