McLeish hot favourite to replace sacked McCarthy

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The Independent Football

There were tears as Mick McCarthy exited Sunderland yesterday, but not from the departing manager. The Irishman went with a smile on his face, sacked for leaving the club where he found it, bottom of the Premiership. It seems that in management, consistency is simply not enough these days.

The nationality might be different, but Bob Murray, the increasingly beleaguered chairman, identified one rugged former centre-half to replace another - after, in his own vernacular, McCarthy finally got the "tin-tack" just short of his third anniversary in charge. Rangers' Alex McLeish has been identified as the ideal successor.

McCarthy made a decent Championship manager, winning 51 of his 92 games outside the top flight and earning the League title last year. However, two victories in 37 Premiership games sealed his demise.

"I leave with a smile," McCarthy insisted as he departed the club's training ground for the final time yesterday. "I've enjoyed every bit of it because it's been a pleasure to manage this club. I'm sure I've got those who support me and there will be people who think otherwise. I've done my best."

The 47-year-old was to be given an opportunity to oversee an immediate return to the top flight, but that all changed when Murray, incensed at comments that the club had planned for relegation this season - which McCarthy vehemently claimed were misconstrued - offered a public rebuke. A close working relationship was shattered.

"We didn't return to the Premier League just to make up the numbers. None of us expected us to be in this position," Murray said as he launched the search for a fourth manager in three and a half years. It is a quest tempered by the knowledge that the majority of supporters would much rather have had his head instead.

The chairman was strong on contrition: "I take responsibility for what's proven to be an unsuccessful and heartbreaking season. I'm deeply sorry that the excitement, optimism and aspirations of fans have been rewarded this way."

By general consensus, in his attempts to steer a path to safety this season, McCarthy apportioned modest funds unwisely. Jon Stead, Anthony Le Tallec and Andy Gray, all brought in to score goals, have done anything but.

An old boy, Kevin Ball, has been asked to take charge until the end of the season. Longer term, McLeish is on a list with Brentford's Martin Allen and Colchester manager Phil Parkinson, which reflects a necessity to attract a manager familiar with dealing with limited funds.

Niall Quinn's return in some capacity would be a popular move, while Peter Reid retains a strong level of support from Murray.

Another former Sunderland manager, Howard Wilkinson, is in little doubt where blame should be apportioned: "The root problem lies at board level."