Even the most optimistic Sunderland supporter will tell you that his team are already in big trouble this season. The Black Cats sit 22nd in the Championship table and have won just one of their opening 15 league games.
Their misery was compounded by a 3-3 home draw with bottom club Bolton Wanderers on Tuesday night, in which they even had to rely on a late Paddy McNair goal to rescue a point.
Sunderland may have avoided defeat but it was not enough to save manager Simon Grayson’s job as the former Leeds United manager was promptly given the boot minutes after the final whistle.
Tough times on Wearside are nothing new. Their current predicament is the latest to afflict a club that has become accustomed to an almost perennial fight for survival in recent years.
Relegation from the Premier League last season was expected to breathe fresh impetus and life into a club that had grimly clung on to its top-flight status for a number of years.
That struggle had left many at the Stadium of Light jaded and a return to the Championship was almost perversely celebrated as an opportunity to rebuild and restructure an ageing and financially burdensome Sunderland squad.
Any pre-season hope has since evaporated and ambitions of an immediate recovery have faded.
Sunderland must now hope to retain their status in the second tier at the very least and there are a number of candidates to assume responsibility for turning the club around.
- Kevin Phillips
Perhaps the most interesting name to have been linked with the vacancy is Sunderland hero Kevin Phillips. The former striker is considered by many as the club’s most-successful player in the modern era, bagging 130 goals in 235 appearances.
In terms of management, the former England international has limited experience. Phillips joined the Leicester City coaching staff after his retirement in 2014 and became assistant manager to Nigel Pearson in the Foxes’ first season back in the Premier League. He is currently part of the backroom staff at Derby County.
The Black Cats squad has been accused of lacking passion and identity since their Premier League exit last season. Appointing Phillips would certainly help to bring back pleasant memories of a more successful time and may help to galvanise the Sunderland dressing room and get the home support behind the team once again.
2. Alan Pardew
In what may be seen as a ‘safer bet’ to that of Phillips, former Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew has also been linked with a return to the North East. The 56-year-old had been contacted prior to the appointment of Grayson towards the end of last season but opted to turn down the opportunity on account of his previous Magpies connection.
However, his time on Tyneside was successful after guiding them into Europe in 2012. That feat earned him the Premier League Manager of the Season award and he followed that up by taking his team into the quarter finals of the UEFA Cup in 2013.
Of greater significance to Mackem fans will have been his initially impressive stint at Crystal Palace. Pardew took over at Selhurst Park in January 2015 with the Eagles firmly entrenched in the relegation zone. A former-Palace player, he eventually guided them to a remarkable 10th place finish.
His Newcastle connections make a move to Sunderland unlikely but his relative success in South London suggests that he possesses all of the tools needed to save the Black Cats if called upon.
3. John O’Shea
However, a joint role with a more experienced co-coach may provide O’Shea with the opportunity to learn on the job and give the Black Cats enough know-how to ensure Championship survival.
4. Peter Reid
In his previous spell at the club, the 61-year-old lead the Black Cats from a relegation dogfight in the old Division 1 in 1995, to promotion to the Premier League in the 1995/96 campaign.
Also during his seven year spell, Reid guided his team to seventh place in 2000, Sunderland’s highest-ever finish in the top flight.
The former Everton player has enjoyed a colourful management career, having taken charge of several British clubs and even managed the Thailand national team in 2008 and 2009.
It is likely that he would be a popular choice amongst the Sunderland fan base and interestingly along with Phillips, he has been installed as the current favourite to take over.
5. Aitor Karanka
The 44-year-old recently left Middlesbrough following a mixed stint that included promotion from the Championship in 2016 but departed from the Riverside Stadium in March this year with the club struggling in the relegation zone.
The former Spain international started his coaching career as Jose Mourinho’s assistant at Real Madrid and enjoys a burgeoning reputation in world football.
Karanka’s spell with Boro was often punctuated with fiery clashes with players and the club’s management, leading some to question whether his style would suit a team in desperate need of grit and unity to take on the difficult challenge awaiting them.
It is clear that whoever takes on the role has a huge rebuilding job ahead of them. The stakes are high and the rewards are scant but the Sunderland board would be wise to consider their next appointment carefully.