Mark Hughes and Martin O'Neill are the early contenders for the Sunderland job. The out-of-work bosses have told close pals they are desperate to jump into the Stadium of Light hotseat.

Steve Bruce was shown the door by ruthless owner Ellis Short last night after bagging just two league wins this term.

Former Celtic chief O'Neill is a boyhood Sunderland fan and would love a crack on Wearside after quitting Aston Villa following a fall out with Randy Lerner, says The Sun.

Short is NOT friends with his fellow American Lerner and would not be swayed by any of his negatives feelings towards the Ulsterman.

Hughes, who left Fulham in the summer, is impressed with the size of the Sunderland fanbase and knows with Short in place, the Black Cats have a chairman who is ready to back his new man.

Rafa Benitez and ex-England bosses Steve McClaren and Sven Goran Eriksson are also available.