Paolo Di Canio the favourite to take over at Reading following Brian McDermott sacking

Former Swindon boss in the frame

Paolo Di Canio is the leading candidate to replace Brian McDermott, who was sacked by Reading's Russian owner Anton Zingarevich today with the club 19th in the Premier League and four points from safety.

Di Canio, 44, who left Swindon last month, was at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday to watch McDermott's last game in charge, a 2-1 defeat to fellow strugglers Aston Villa. He has been suggested as a potential successor to McDermott despite never having managed above League One.

In a statement released by Reading at 5.30pm today, a spokesman for the club said that "in our current situation, owner Anton Zingarevich felt that a change was necessary". The new appointee will have nine games to save Reading's Premier League status with their next match away to leaders Manchester United on Saturday.

The former Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo, 42, is also under consideration. He has not worked in the game since he was sacked in November and has not even been granted an interview since his departure from the club where he won the Champions League last May. Di Matteo was thought to be one of the contenders for the Southampton job after Nigel Adkins was sacked in January.

McDermott was not at a training session today which was optional for the players who had played against Villa on Saturday. Many of the Reading squad did attend and the defeat was discussed by the players and coaching staff. They were later told that McDermott had left the club.

Adkins, another possible candidate, is not thought to have agreed his compensation package with Southampton which would make his appointment problematic. Mark Hughes and Alan Curbishley are also available. A more difficult appointment would be the highly-rated Uruguayan Gus Poyet currently manager at Brighton who are seventh in the Championship, one point off the play-off places.

McDermott was said to have told friends he was "devastated" by the decision. His team rallied after Christmas, beating West Ham, West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle and drawing with Chelsea. He was named manager of the month for January.

McDermott had been hopeful of building on that good run with some signings in the January transfer window but he was not given significant funds to bring in new players.

Eventually, Reading signed Daniel Carrico from Sporting Lisbon, Nick Blackman (Sheffield United), Hope Akpan (Crawley) and Steven Kelly from Fulham. Since beating Sunderland on 2 February they have lost four consecutive Premier League games and exited the FA Cup at home to Wigan Athletic.

Last night, the Reading striker Jason Roberts said that the players were grateful to McDermott who got the side promoted last summer, for the second time to the Premier League, having taken over in December 2009.

Roberts said: "He's a football man and a good man and I just think at this moment in time we take stock of what he has achieved and place on record our thanks. As an individual player I, and I'm sure the others, would like to place on record their thanks for what he and his [backroom] team have achieved for us."

"[The question of his successor] is not a decision we are party to. All we can do is concentrate on what we do on the pitch and on the training ground and do our best for Reading – I don't think anyone would say anything different. What we need to do is make sure we leave Reading in a good position, I think Brian McDermott has done that, and I think we owe it to the club and owe it to Brian as much as anyone, to the owners, the fans and to ourselves to do the best we can and that will never change."

One of McDermott's assistants, the Greek coach Yannis Anastasiou, said "It was a real surprise. Brian did a great job for Reading but this is football and sometimes you don't get what you want. I'm sure Brian will get something for his future. People take decisions and time will tell whether it was the right one."

Reading runners: how bookies call it

The favourites:

Paolo Di Canio 1-2

Nigel Adkins 9-2

Roberto Di Matteo 6-1

The outsiders:

Alan Curbishley 10-1

Nigel Gibbs 12-1

Phil Parkinson 12-1

Stuart Pearce 12-1

Dick Advocaat 14-1

Mark Hughes 14-1

Steve McClaren 14-1

Avram Grant 14-1

Ian Holloway 20-1

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