O’Neill favourite to replace Bruce at Sunderland

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Steve Bruce last night became the first Premier League manager to lose his job this season after Sunderland chairman Ellis Short described results as “simply not good enough”.

Saturday’s home defeat to Wigan – who started the day bottom of the table – left Sunderland 16th in the league, just two points above the relegation zone.

Bruce insisted he had no intention of walking away from the club, despite fans calling for his head.

But chairman and owner Short decided that he had seen enough after Wigan snatched a last-minute winner which means the Black Cats have won just two of their last 15 league games at the Stadium of Light.

Martin O’Neill, a boyhood Sunderland fan, is the early favourite to replace Bruce.

Short said: “This has been a difficult time for everyone at Sunderland and is not a situation that any of us envisaged or expected to be in.

“It is my job as chairman to act in the best interests of our football club at all times and I can assure everyone that this is not a decision 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.

“Steve has acted with honesty and integrity throughout, which is testament to the character and commitment he has shown during his time at Sunderland.

“I would like to personally place on record my thanks to him for his significant contribution to our football club over the past two and a half years and everyone here at Sunderland naturally wishes him the very best for the future.

“I would also like to thank our fans, who have endured a trying start to the season. Their support continues to be the driving force behind our club and is vital as we now look to the future.”

Bruce’s Tyneside roots had been a source of disquiet for some supporters, with the 50-year-old Geordie saying of fans’ chants: “It borders on abuse.”

However, the fact remains that last season’s 10th place finish in the Premier League was flattering to say the least, with the club still involved in a relegation battle until late April and only climbing into the top half on the back of two wins in the last three games at Bolton and relegated West Ham.

Bruce has also spent an enormous amount of money since taking the job in June 2009, and although some of that was recouped by Darren Bent’s move to Aston Villa, the likes of Craig Gardner, David Vaughan and Ji Dong-won have failed to impress since signing in the summer.

Assistant manager Eric Black will take charge of the team while the search for a new manager begins.