Out! Martin O'Neill sacked for the first time in career

Players not even told as Sunderland owner wields axe after defeat against Manchester United

Sunderland last night sacked Martin O'Neill, ending his near 16-month stay in charge at the Stadium of Light.

O'Neill was told he was being relieved of his duties after the club's owner Ellis Short decided the recent run of eight games without a win was not good enough. It is the first time O'Neill has been dismissed in his 26-year managerial career.

Defeat at home to Manchester United yesterday has left Sunderland just one point above the relegation zone. They have previously been relegated three times from the Premier League and Short felt he could not risk the possibility of another drop into the Championship.

This is seen as a key season for all Premier League clubs. The new television deal, which is reckoned to be worth an extra £30 million per club, has cranked up the pressure on owners to ensure safety in the top division.

Sunderland's first-team players were completely unaware of the sacking. A club statement read: "Sunderland AFC has announced that it has parted company with manager Martin O'Neill this evening. The club would like to place on record its thanks to Martin and wishes him well for the future. An announcement will be made in the coming days regarding a successor."

O'Neill had wanted more power in the transfer market to invest in a squad he believed needed significant strengthening to become a strong Premier League team.

He spent £30 million in the transfer market during his time in charge at the Stadium of Light, however he only bought four players and felt there was a need to massively invest in the squad he inherited from Steve Bruce in 2011.

Sunderland announced nine days ago that they had made a loss of £27 million. Short has invested heavily in previous managers Roy Keane and Steve Bruce and called for an end to the revolving door at the Stadium of Light in relation to players arriving and leaving.

O'Neill was seen as the dream ticket for Sunderland supporters. He was a fan of the club as a child, a legacy of the Charlie Hurley era at Roker Park, however his win return of 25 games in 66 games was not good enough for Short.