Key questions answered as Black Cats step up search for new boss

4. Increase the intensity in training and boost the fitness

Sunderland have reportedly identified Barnsley boss Paul Heckingbottom and Rangers legend Ally McCoist as candidates for the vacant managerial role at the Stadium of Light.

Heckingbottom distanced himself from the role when quizzed about being linked to the job before the global break.

"Other than being asked about it now, it's not even in my head so that's as far as it goes".

Along with Heckingbottom, rival names have been considered, including former Middlesbrough chief Aitor Karanka and ex-Rangers boss and one-time Sunderland striker Ally McCoist, who worked with Bain at Ibrox.

The managerial stock of Heckingbottom, who led the Reds to their highest Championship finish since 2000 last season and whose new-look side are comfortably positioned in 16th place in the table after a summer of upheaval, is now high.

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Grayson was sacked minutes after a 3-3 home draw with Bolton on October 31, and the managerless club now sits at the foot of the table with just 10 points from its first 16 games.

For a club claiming to have no money, the package on offer at Sunderland is seriously substantial. "Everybody knows what I think of the place".

The success Heckingbottom has had with one of the smallest budgets in the league has not gone unnoticed by the Sunderland board - and he was in the running after David Moyes' departure.

Heckingbottom's odds have been slashed in the past 24 hours but there has been no approach for the Tykes' boss, who was on Sunderland's books without making a first team appearance.

And he has the chance to do that now, having bought in a number of young, talented players in the summer.

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