Sunderland sack Martin O’Neil, di Canio linked

Sunderland have sacked manager Martin O’Neill following a string of eight games without a win.

The former Aston Villa manager watched his side fall 1-0 at home to champions elect Manchester United, and was swiftly dismissed.

The news heralds an end to O’Neill’s 15-month reign on Wearside, and also marks the first occasion during his managerial career where he has been dismissed.

Sunderland currently sit one point above the relegation zone with seven games left to play, and the eight-game winless streak which preceded his dismissal saw the Black Cats earn just three points from a possible 24.

Various media sources have discussed the issue. BBC Sport spoke with former player Kevin Kilbane, and he believes that the club have made the wrong decision at the wrong time in dismissing their manager.

The former Republic of Ireland international, who spent four years on Wearside and made 124 appearances for the club, said: “As a whole, they’ve struggled this season. They’ve had a few injury problems which have not helped their cause.

“Now they’ve made the change and you’ve got to respect the owners for doing that, but I don’t think it’s the right decision to make.

“I think they should have continued with Martin O’Neill until the end of the season and tried to establish themselves in the Premier League, but this puts everything back up in the air again.”

Another former Sunderland player, Marco Gabbiadini, told BBC Radio 5 Live that O’Neill’s position had become difficult owing to the recent bad form. He said: “We’ve not been in the relegation picture until the last couple of weeks but we’ve slowly slid down the table.

“It just hasn’t been good enough far too often this year. The players have stuck together pretty well, we haven’t been humiliated in too many games but it just hasn’t been good enough to turn decent, stubborn performances into points and that’s probably what the new manager will need to do.”

Various other media personalities, including former Newcastle player and manager Alan Shearer, have also expressed their surprise at the decision.

Speculation has already begun regarding who will replace the Irishman in the Stadium of Light hotseat, with several names being mooted.

BBC Sport report that former West Ham striker Paolo di Canio is the early bookmakers’ favourite to take the role. Di Canio left League One outfit Swindon in February after leading the Robins to promotion from League Two.

Other names being linked with the role are former England coach Steve McClaren, Mark Hughes and former Chelsea team-mates Roberto di Matteo and Gus Poyet.

Steve McClaren

Ex-Manchester United striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has also been suggested as a potential successor to O’Neill.

Luke Edwards, writing for The Telegraph suggests that the move proves highly risky for the club, and even cites the belief that it may be a panic reaction.

While their recent record certainly suggests relegation form – and indeed the club now appear firmly embroiled in the scrap – Edwards also questions why a defeat at home to the Premier League leaders, who have never lost a game at the Stadium of Light, was the result to force chairman Ellis Short’s hand.

Some media outlets believe that the added pressure of a new £3b TV rights deal for the Premier League next season makes survival in the top flight even more financially imperative than previously. This sentiment was echoed by BBC pundit Alan Hansen, who said: “The rewards of success and penalties for a lack of success have never been greater,” the former Scotland and Liverpool defender said. “I have always thought Sunderland would be safe but, for the first time today, they were really poor. The alarm bells were there.”

Former Crystal Palace and Reading boss Steve Coppell criticised the Sunderland chairman, and stated his belief that many owners use their football clubs to toy with.

Speaking to Radio 5 Live’s Sportsweek, he said: “We have so many owners who are toying, they don’t understand the heritage of English football and it’s very much ‘I can do what I want with my club’ and it seems that way, unless they have somebody lined up.

“We’ve just had an international break, if you were going to make a change, constructively you would have made it then, now you can’t do that kind of thing, seven games to go, whoever comes in has got an almost impossible task.

“There are so many foreign owners now, and I’ve got nothing against that, but there is a certain history, traditions, almost a way of doing things that has almost gone out of the window.”

Former Black Cats defender Michael Gray took to Twitter to express his belief that O’Neill’s players must shoulder some of the blame for the popular Irishman’s dismissal, saying: “So where do we go from here Sunderland? Do we just keep sacking managers or do we start pointing the finger at the players?”

With the end of the season looming, and the club facing a relegation battle, Sunderland must surely be ready to act swiftly to appoint O’Neill’s successor.

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