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Football: What next for Sunderland?

Sunderland are on the hunt for a new manager, as the club look to finally plot a route out of League One.

The Black Cats are into their fourth season in the third tier of English football, but despite sitting third in the table, they parted ways with boss Lee Johnson at the end of January following a humiliating 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Bolton.

A permanent replacement is yet to be named, but whoever is appointed will have one primary objective, and that will be to get Sunderland promoted back to the Championship.

From the sublime to the ridiculous under Johnson

Johnson was appointed midway through last season to galvanise Sunderland's promotion push and he was able to lead the Black Cats to the playoffs, but they ultimately were edged out by Lincoln in the semi-finals.

Automatic promotion was the aim at the start of this season and Johnson appeared to be delivering, as Sunderland secured nine wins from their opening 12 games.

There were also some notable results over the first half of the season, including 5-0 victories at the Stadium of Light against Cheltenham, Morecambe and most impressively Sheffield Wednesday.

However, that work was also underpinned by a string of embarrassing results, a 4-0 reverse at Portsmouth and a 5-1 defeat to Rotherham certainly spring to mind, while the 6-0 humbling at Bolton proved the final straw, with Johnson relieved of his duties.

Is Keane the answer?

Following Johnson's departure, Sunderland are now on the lookout for an 11th permanent manager since 2013, with reports suggesting that the club have drawn up a shortlist of four candidates that they are set to interview.

Former Celtic boss Neil Lennon, the evergreen Neil Warnock and Grant McCann, who recently departed Hull, are believed to be three of the names on the list, while the fourth is a certain Roy Keane.

Keane knows all about Sunderland, as he previously managed the club for two-and-a-half years until departing in December 2008, but only after he had guided them to promotion and subsequently consolidated their place in the Premier League.

The former Manchester United star is remembered fondly on Wearside and there is no doubting he would incorporate the fighting qualities needed in a promotion push.

He would also be inheriting a team that sits just a place and two points off the automatic promotion positions in League One and they are priced at 9/1 to end the campaign as champions.

However, one note of caution would be that Keane has not been a manager in his own right since leaving Ipswich in January 2011, while there will also be question marks as to whether his abrasive style can really get the best out of a modern-day player.

No guarantees in League One promotion race

Sunderland certainly appear well positioned in the League One promotion race at first glance, but there are reasons for concern, as the side directly above them in the standings, Wigan, have three games in hand on the Black Cats, while leaders Rotherham have also played two matches less.

If the top two were to win those games in hand then they would both move 11 points clear of Sunderland and the chasing pack, which would be a large deficit to overhaul.

The Black Cats also must remain wary of the sides below them in the standings, as MK Dons, Wycombe and Oxford are all within four points of the Wearsiders.

Securing a playoff place would be the absolute minimum requirement for whoever becomes Sunderland's new manager and the club can be backed at 1/14 to finish in the top six, although the likes of Plymouth and Sheffield Wednesday will have ambitions of gatecrashing that party.

The playoffs of course hold bad memories for Sunderland, as they not only lost to Lincoln in last season's semi-finals, but they were also dramatically beaten by Charlton in the 2018/19 final.

Of course Sunderland could still break into the top two, and they are priced at 10/11 to be promoted in any which way come the end of the season, but if they do ultimately have to go through the playoffs, then it is sure to be a nervy climax to the season

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