Sunderland chairman Bob Murray launched the search for a new saviour after admitting his part in the downfall of manager Mick McCarthy.
McCarthy was dismissed yesterday morning after Manchester City condemned the Black Cats to a 22nd league defeat in 28 matches, with relegation all but a mathematical certainty.
"It's been tough here these last few months, but it's been brilliant," McCarthy said. "I've enjoyed every single minute of it. It's been a pleasure. I've been very fortunate. As always, I've done my best. I can't do any more and I'll move on and eventually do something else."
Former midfield enforcer Kevin Ball, the club's assistant academy manager, has been appointed caretaker manager for the rest of the campaign as Murray seeks the club's third manager since Peter Reid's departure in October 2002.
Rangers manager Alex McLeish is a 9-2 favourite with bookmakers Ladbrokes, with Ball quoted at 6-1 and Brentford's Martin Allen just a point further off the pace.
Murray, thrilled to appoint McCarthy in March 2003, said: "As chairman, I take responsibility for what has proven to be an unsuccessful and heartbreaking season, despite the best intentions, efforts and expectations of everyone at the club. I would like to thank Mick McCarthy for his efforts for the club and wish him and his family the best for the future."
McCarthy oversaw a dreadful run of results after obtaining promotion at the second attempt, having offloaded 23 players. The club has debts near £40million after he spent £10million last summer.