Relegation-threatened Sunderland have sacked manager Martin O'Neill following a poor run of results.
The Black Cats sit one point above the Premier League relegation zone with seven games left after a
1-0 defeat by Manchester United
without a win in eight league matches,
during which they have picked up only three points.
"Sunderland's decision to part company with manager Martin O'Neill is a shock in any context - not least in its timing.
"It was thought summer would be the time to reflect on his position but the move to seek a new manager with only seven games remaining and with Sunderland now in freefall is a sign of the fear of the drop which is now gripping Wearside."
The club said a decision on O'Neill's successor would "be made in the coming days".
Paolo Di Canio, 44, is the bookmakers' favourite to succeed O'Neill.
The former West Ham United player
quit League One Swindon
in February, his first managerial role, after leading the Robins to promotion as League Two champions last season.
Former England manager Steve McClaren, who
left his role as coach of FC Twente
in February, is also being linked with the role.
Other names in the frame include ex-Queens Park Rangers and Manchester City manager Mark Hughes and Roberto Di Matteo, who won the
as Chelsea's interim manager last season.
Former Manchester United player Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, manager of Norwegian club Molde, is also being linked along with Brighton boss Gus Poyet.
There was no hint of an exit for 61-year-old O'Neill in Sunderland chairman Ellis Short's programme notes before the game against the Premier League leaders.
"Of course, there is nobody that is happy with our current position and the way our season is going," the American wrote. "The reality is that we have a fight on our hands.
Names in the frame
Paolo Di Canio:
Age: 44. Last job: Swindon. Out of work since: February. Other managerial experience: None. Managerial honours: League Two title 2011-12.
Age: 51. Last job: FC Twente. Out of work since: February. Other managerial experience: Nottingham Forest, Wolfsburg, England, Middlesbrough. Managerial honours: League Cup 2003-04. Dutch title: 2009-10.
Age: 49. Last job: QPR. Out of work since: November 2012. Other managerial experience: Wales, Blackburn Rovers, Manchester City, Fulham. Managerial honours: None.
Roberto Di Matteo:
Age: 42. Last job: Chelsea. Out of work since: November 2012. Other managerial experience: MK Dons, West Bromwich Albion. Managerial honours: Champions League 2011-12; FA Cup 2011-12; Championship runners-up 2009-10.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer:
Age: 40. Current job? Molde. Other managerial experience: Manchester United reserves. Managerial honours: Norwegian Premier League 2011, 2012.
Age: 45. Current job: Brighton & Hove Albion. Other managerial experience: Assistant manager at Swindon and Leeds. Managerial honours: League One title 2010-11.
"But right now, it is important for us all to be on the same side and get behind the team. Not being together will not help us to get results, so let's stand shoulder to shoulder and give the team our full support."
Northern Irishman O'Neill
took over from Steve Bruce
almost 16 months ago, leading Sunderland to seven wins in his first 10 fixtures to ease any relegation fears on their way to a 13th-placed finish.
The former Wycombe, Norwich, Leicester, Celtic and Aston Villa boss looked to build on those solid foundations by signing
England winger Adam Johnson
Scotland striker Steven Fletcher
Results did not follow, however, and the Black Cats fell to 16th place in the table following their latest defeat, which
occurred without their top scorer Fletcher and captain Lee Cattermole after the injured pair were ruled out for the season.
O'Neill leaves Sunderland with a record of 16 wins from 55 Premier League matches.
Speaking after the game, he appeared optimistic about securing Sunderland's survival.
"I am as buoyant now as - I was nearly going to say as I have always been," he said.
"What is it - the half-full or the half-empty glass? I'm even going to the three-quarters full.
"There is a real determination in the dressing room. The players are obviously disappointed, but they can take a lot from the second half."
O'Neill's departure makes him the fifth top-flight manager to lose his job this season. He follows
from Queens Park Rangers,
from Southampton and
His successor's first game could be the trip to Champions League-chasing Chelsea on 7 April, with that match followed by the Tyne-Wear derby against Newcastle at St James' Park a week later.