Martin O'Neill should be rubber-stamped as the new Sunderland manager within the next 24 hours.
The Irishman is expected to watch from the stands as his new charges tackle Wolverhampton Wanderers tomorrow, before officially starting the task of reviving the club's fortunes 24 hours later.
Eric Black, assistant to the departed Steve Bruce, will pick the side that goes in search of only a third win of the season at Molineux, a short drive from O'Neill's West Midlands base. The 59-year-old has spent much of the last two days thrashing out an agreement with Ellis Short during face-to-face talks in London with the Sunderland chairman, who dispensed with Bruce on Wednesday, after two and a half years in the job, due to an unacceptable run of results coupled with mounting supporter unrest.
Talks between the pair have centred on both personal terms, in addition to the parameters, both financial and logistical, of the role O'Neill agrees to take on his return to management 16 months after his departure from Aston Villa. With O'Neill set to bring in his own backroom staff, Black is not expected to remain at the club for long after his single game at the helm. Given the proximity of both clubs to the foot of the table, however, it nevertheless represents a vital three points up for grabs. "It's important that everyone is focused on the game and prepares in the right manner," Black said of an encounter that could leave the losers anchored in the bottom three. The Scot added: "That's what we'll be concentrating on today and tomorrow. Molineux is a difficult place to go, as we've discovered in the past couple of seasons, but the lads have trained well and are ready for the challenge. Naturally it's a difficult time for everyone at the club but we have to be professional and get on with the job in hand."
O'Neill has been promised significant transfer funds, both in January and beyond. His work in the transfer market at Villa was mixed, with his successes – Ashley Young, James Milner and Stewart Downing, who were sold on for a combined profit of more than £30m – being offset by the signings of the rather less effective Stephen Ireland, Habib Beye and Carlos Cuellar.
Despite reports yesterday that O'Neill already had put pen to paper, Sunderland denied this, a spokesman confirming: "Sunderland's quest to fill the vacant managerial position is in full flow."