Hard times for Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill as Steve Clarke prospers at West Brom
Sunderland 2 West Bromwich Albion 4
Two managers; one in tracksuit bottoms, a training top and Copa Mundials, the other in a club tie, shirt and a suit. One kicking every ball, even throwing it back to his players during the second half. The other, hands in pockets, carefully passing a bit of advice to his players. One losing. One winning.
One resigning, according to a radio station's tweet late on Saturday night. The other going home third top of the Premier League, five months into his new career as a football manager.
At 4pm on Saturday, the focus was, deservedly, Steve Clarke's. West Bromwich Albion had just completed their best start to a top-flight season in 58 years with a 4-2 victory over Sunderland.
By 9pm, Martin O'Neill had taken it back. The denial came quickly, from him and those around him. The club ridiculed the speculation. It is not what Sunderland need as they plot an unsteady ship through troubled waters.
They have won five of their last 27 Premier League games. O'Neill is attempting a difficult balancing act. His team had 17 shots on Saturday to West Bromwich's 12 and they only lost the possession battle to a team full of confidence by 2 per cent. Yet after the game there was the admission that O'Neill felt his team were a bit weaker than Clarke's.
"Will I do much in January?" he said. "I have mentioned the physical sides of things before in that we have less physicality than most Premier League teams. We would need a little bit more strength, a little bit more strength in depth."
In contrast, it is onwards and upwards for Clarke. "I am never satisfied," he said. "If we get to 50 points in March, I will go for another target. The philosophy we have and the way we have worked is to build game to game and we look no further. I am mildly happy. It has not been a lucky start, in fact in some games you could say we have been unlucky not to get points.
"Everything we have got we have deserved but we don't get carried away and think because we are up there we are the big-time Charlies. We keep grounded. And, as I said to the players, it could be a good season for us."
Latest in Sport
How Liverpool can catch Manchester United and secure Champions League football next season
Arsenal transfer news: Arsene Wenger reveals: 'We are not close to signing anybody. We need to lose some players'
Danny Jones: Keighley Cougars half-back dies after cardiac arrest during league game
Chelsea season player ratings: Grading the entire squad of the new Premier League champions
Floyd Mayweather beats Manny Pacquiao by a unanimous points decision - but Pacquiao thinks he should have won, saying 'he did nothing'
- 2 The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
- 4 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils