With the gossip intensifying, there are claims this afternoon that Paul Heckingbottom is weighing up his options and is expected to make a decision within the next 24 hours on whether to accept the Sunderland job, with counter-claims emerging that the Black Cats have also approached Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill.
The Barnsley manager still leads the betting to become the next Black Cats chief but a sense of unfinished business at Oakwell combined with the state of things at the Stadium of Light may well have the 40-year-old in two minds about which way to turn.
Barnsley are eight places better off than Sunderland in the Championship, with 9 points more on the board, and entered the international break with back-to-back victories over Burton and Birmingham.
Heckingbottom is on a rolling one-year deal at Oakwell and has impressed in his first stint as manager.
Barnsley’s chairman is due to meet Tykes supporters in an engagement event this evening and questions about his manager will no doubt feature prominently. The solicitor is also expected to update fans on the status of ongoing talks to takeover the South Yorkshire club with a Chinese consortium seeking to buyout terminally-ill owner Patrick Cryne.
Meanwhile, the bottom of the table Black Cats are without a league win in three months and are engulfed in merely the latest crisis to rock Ellis Short’s beleaguered club.
Simon Grayson was sacked over a fortnight ago and Sunderland have a little under 72 hours to prepare for the next crunch game of what is becoming a sorry season with a home fixture against sixth-bottom Millwall on Saturday.
Gossip emanating from social media suggests Heckingbottom will take his time to think over Sunderland’s offer and that a lack of assurances over transfer dealings in the January window may yet see him opt to stay at Barnsley.
The former Black Cats youth player will be all too aware of how quickly Grayson’s tenure soured after Sunderland spent just £1.25m on an almost entire squad rebuild in the summer. Unable to bring in the faces he needed, the former Preston boss quickly floundered following a spate of injuries and an inability to settle on his strongest side.
Meanwhile, Sky Sports are suggesting Sunderland have made an enquiry to speak to Northern Ireland boss O’Neill who has also been approached by the Scottish FA to succeed Gordon Strachan as national team boss north of the border.
The 48-year-old only signed a new deal last year to lead Northern Ireland to 2020 but his achievements in almost guiding the province to the World Cup have him in high demand with manager-less Rangers also said to be keen on landing him.
In the wake of Sunday’s narrow aggregate defeat to Switzerland, O’Neill was said to be in no rush to decide whether to change jobs or not.