Hughes in frame after Sunderland dismiss Bruce

Manager's reign ends after two and a half years but malaise set in 10 months ago when sale of Darren Bent left team short of goals

Just four days after insisting there was no need to panic over the managerial situation at Sunderland, Ellis Short has dispensed with the services of Steve Bruce two-and-a-half years into the job. Mark Hughes, the former Fulham and Manchester City manager, last night emerged as a strong front-runner for a role that is expected to attract interest from a series of high profile candidates, including Martin O'Neill, formerly at Aston Villa.

Despite the recent reassurances from the club's billionaire owner Short, Bruce ultimately paid the price for a malaise which set in 10 months ago with the sudden departure of Darren Bent, one of two players on whom Bruce broke the club's transfer record following his appointment in June, 2009. Sunderland have struggled for goals since Bent's controversial £24m move to Villa in January, the unseemly exit of his successor Asamoah Gyan to the cash-rich United Arab Emirates at the start of this season merely exacerbating the problems in regularly finding the net.

A highest Premier League placing for a decade in May – 10th – failed to paper over the cracks in what has proved to be a chastening 2011 for Bruce, whose side have won at home just twice since New Year's Day, reaching their nadir with the weekend's 2-1 reversal to lowly Wigan Athletic at the Stadium of Light. It proved to be the straw that broke the camel's back for many supporters, with Bruce subjected to sustained personal abuse from the stands in the aftermath of an injury-time winner for the visitors, a fact clearly not lost on Short, an unedifying development which for many was merely the natural conclusion in Tyneside-born Bruce's failure to win over a significant minority of supporters simply due to his Geordie roots.

"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," Short said in a statement. Many felt the writing was on the wall when Niall Quinn, a strong boardroom ally of Bruce, lost his position of influence when he was replaced as chairman by Short two months ago. It was a move that left the 50-year-old exposed, and more directly answerable to Short, who had bank-rolled his 30 signings to the tune of around £50m. "It is my job as chairman to act in the best interests of our football club," Short added. "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 at Sunderland."

Eric Black, Bruce's assistant, will take charge of Sunday's trip to Wolves, who have also amassed a modest 11 points from their first 13 games this season.

In terms of potential successors, Hughes has emerged among the front-runners. There had been no contact between Sunderland and Hughes by late last night though there is no doubt that the vacant role is one that the former Manchester City manager would be interested in.

Hughes has an understanding of the scale of the job on Wearside, the history of the club and the level of expectation. He would be a fit because of the size of the task he accomplished at City. His work at Blackburn Rovers, a struggling Premier League side when he joined and led them to the top six, will also count in his favour with Short.

Though Hughes was at Fulham for only one season, a two-year period of time which has taken him in and out of the game since leaving City will have quickened his desire for a substantial longer-term role to rebuild his career.

O'Neill, who resigned from his role at the Midlands club 16 months ago, has been linked with the Sunderland job on the last two occasions it has become available. A Sunderland supporter as a youngster, sources suggest his at times uneasy relationship with Villa owner Randy Lerner, to whom Short has business links, could count against any attempts to forward the Irishman's case, though the 59-year-old would be a popular appointment among Sunderland supporters.

Bruce's demise: Where it all went wrong

Sunderland's last five games:

Saturday Sunderland 1–2 Wigan

19 Nov Sunderland 0–0 Fulham

5 Nov Man Utd 1–0 Sunderland

29 Oct Sunderland 2–2 Aston Villa

22 Oct Bolton 0–2 Sunderland

Bruce's summer signings of woe:

Nicklas Bendtner, loan Scored two goals in nine games.

Connor Wickham, £8.1m Has found the net just once – in last month's draw with Aston Villa.

Wes Brown, £1m His mistake on Saturday handed Wigan a last-minute winner.

Ahmed Elmohamady, £2m One goal and one assist from 11 games.

John O'Shea, undisclosed Injuries in pre-season hampered his ability to settle at the club.

Ji Dong-won, £2m One goal in 11.

Favourites to take over:

Martin O'Neill 1/2

Rafael Benitez 7/1

Mark Hughes 10/1

Bob Bradley, Lee Clark 14/1

Dave Jones, Steve McClaren, Carlo Ancelotti, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Stuart Pearce 16/1

Alan Curbishley, Sean O'Driscoll, Gareth Southgate 20/1.

Winner of the sack race in each of the last five seasons:

7 Dec 2010 Chris Hughton (Newcastle United)

24 Nov 2009 Paul Hart (Portsmouth)

25 Oct 2008 Juande Ramos (Tottenham Hotspur)

20 Sept 2007 Jose Mourinho (Chelsea)

13 Nov 2006 Iain Dowie (Charlton Athletic)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain