Phil Smith discusses the runners and riders for Sunderland’s managerial vacancy

Peter Reid and Kevin Ball celebrate Sunderland's 105-point Division One season in 1998-99
Peter Reid and Kevin Ball celebrate Sunderland's 105-point Division One season in 1998-99

The appointment of Robbie Stockdale and Billy McKinlay as joint managers for the visit to Middlesbrough on Sunday has bought Sunderland some time as they weigh up a critical appointment.

An external arrival in the looming international break seems likely, with the new incumbent facing up to a fight to keep the Black Cats in the Championship.

Kevin Phillips becomes new ambassador for the SAFC Fans Museum.

Kevin Phillips becomes new ambassador for the SAFC Fans Museum.

Long-term, there is a need to help reconnect the club with the supporters and halt the sense of drift and decline.

The manager will have only one small part in that endeavour, but the importance of putting results on the board cannot be understated.

So where will Sunderland turn? Years after his arrival on Wearside, owner Ellis Short seems no closer to finding a winning formula, and the work of chief executive Martin Bain in the last 18 months has offered little further optimism.

Here, we take a look at the paths they are most likely to consider pursuing...

CLUB FAVOURITES

Peter Reid, Kevin Phillips, Kevin Ball

One option to help boost the club and the support is to give the job to someone closely associated with better days at the Stadium of Light.

Peter Reid – who led Sunderland to two seventh-placed top-flight finishes – has been widely mentioned and there is little doubt that he would jump at the chance to return to Wearside, stating in his recent book that he feels he has one last job left in him.

Kevin Phillips has again been heavily linked with the role, after serving a now lengthy coaching apprenticeship at Leicester City and Derby, where he has studied a number of managers at work.

Reid would certainly bring an enthusiasm and an energy to Wearside, but it takes a leap of faith to imagine him replicating the success of his first tenure, given that he has not managed since a stint with Mumbai City in 2014. His last job in this country ended at Plymouth in 2011.

The last of the trio, Kevin Ball, remains closely associated with the club on a day to day basis. He would have an instant connection with the supporters and has the charisma to make an impact.

That Robbie Stockdale and Billy McKinlay have been preferred for the caretaker role, however, does not suggest that he figures prominently in the club’s thinking at this time.

TRIED AND TESTED

Nigel Pearson, Paul Lambert, Aitor Karanka, Alex McLeish

Of course, there is a strong chance that the Sunderland hierarchy will decide to continue largely along the same path that they have pursued in recent times, in this case going for another battle-hardened manager in the demanding arena of the Championship.

Paul Lambert was considered in the summer and remains without a club.

He kept Wolves up last year and has won promotion with Norwich City, though his career has arguably been on a downward turn for some time and his appointment would not be particularly well received. Certainly, it would not provide a lift to an understandably disillusioned fanbase.

Aitor Karanka and Nigel Pearson offer formidable records in this division, even if Pearson’s short spell in charge of Derby County, in 2016, was disastrous.

Karanka still lives in the region months after his sacking at Middlesbrough, and would bring some much needed defensive discipline to a side that has shipped more goals than any other this season.

Still, having turned down the chance to manage an overhauled Birmingham City squad, it would be a surprise to see him show interest in the role, as with Pearson, who has recently taken a job with Leuven in Belgium.

Given that Martin Bain has, in the past, turned to Walter Smith, David Moyes and others for advice, the names of Ally McCoist and Alex McLeish have been mentioned, as well as current caretaker Billy McKinlay. Whether Bain would be prepared to risk the potential backlash from such an appointment remains to be seen.

LEFT FIELD

Paul Heckingbottom

It may well be that desperate times call for radical measures.

Certainly, the lack of financial backing on offer and Sunderland’s lowly league position mean that many of the club’s preferred targets are unlikely to be particularly interested in the post.

That was the case in the summer as Derek McInnes and Garry Monk stayed away, and the situation is arguably even less attractive now.

It may be that the Black Cats are forced to roll the dice on a less established name. An appointment from abroad would seem unlikely given how the club has recruited players and managers in recent years, which leaves a fairly narrow field.

Paul Heckingbottom has worked wonders on a miniscule budget at Barnsley, twice rebuilding a squad gutted in the transfer market and producing something impressive from the wreckage.

It would be a major task to replicate his Oakwell success – largely built around a counter-attacking style and a plethora of young players – at Sunderland, but the one-time Black Cast reserve left-back would surely find it difficult to turn such an opportunity down.

Some of the other names on the market: Paul Cook, Danny, Cowley, John O’Shea, Ryan Giggs, Tim Sherwood, Steve McClaren