Sunderland’s two-man race between Martin O’Neill and Mark Hughes to replace Steve Bruce

Mark Hughes.
Mark Hughes.

MARTIN O’Neill and Mark Hughes are locked in a two-man race for the Sunderland manager’s job in the wake of Steve Bruce’s sacking, writes Graeme Anderson.

Bruce was fired by chairman Ellis Short following a dreadful run of results which left the big-spending Black Cats only two points above the drop zone.

EXCHANGE AND MART ... Martin O'Neill is in a battle with Mark Hughes for the role of Sunderland boss.

EXCHANGE AND MART ... Martin O'Neill is in a battle with Mark Hughes for the role of Sunderland boss.

SportMail understands the club wants a replacement in as soon as possible, preferably in time for Sunday’s important basement battle at Wolves.

In the immediate wake of Bruce’s dismissal after just two-and-a-half years in charge, Eric Black has been appointed caretaker manager.

He is provisionally scheduled to take the club’s pre-match press conferences tomorrow morning and will be in the dugout on Sunday. But Sunderland are pressing to have Bruce’s long-term replacement in place in the next 24 hours and in charge of the team in time for match day.

A host of names have now been linked with the job, including Rafa Benitez, Guus Hiddink, Carlo Ancelotti and Steve McClaren, but the club will decide between Hughes and O’Neill.

O’Neill, who enjoyed great spells as boss at Wycombe, Leicester, Celtic and Villa, would be a popular choice among Sunderland fans, who have seen the team win only three times at home in 2011.

More reaction to Bruce’s sacking and who his successor will be in today’s Sportmail.