Gus Poyet has parted company with Sunderland after the club decided to fast-forward plans to replace him in the summer. Steve McClaren is their No1 target for next season, when the Derby County manager will also be courted by Newcastle United.
Poyet's sacking ends an often turbulent 17-month tenure on Wearside featuring a near-miraculous escape from relegation, a League Cup final and increasing tensions with the club's board.
Lee Congerton, the sporting director, has begun the hunt for a successor to coach the team until the end of the season, when a long-term replacement ideally McClaren - will be sought.
Dick Advocaat, the 67-year-old former Rangers manager who is out of work after stepping down as Serbia's coach last November, is among those under consideration for the temporary role.
It has been apparent for some time a parting of the ways with Poyet in June was almost inevitable but a majority on the board had hoped the Uruguayan could keep Sunderland in the Premier League while seeing this season out.
That stance changed when the team surrendered to a 4-0 home defeat by Aston Villa on Saturday. It is understood Sunderland's owner, Ellis Short, the chief executive, Margaret Byrne, and Congerton decided during talks on Sunday that a change was needed. Poyet's assistants Mauricio Taricco and Charlie Oatway have also left the club.
A watershed was reached when half the near-46,000 crowd vacated the stadium in protest by half-time of a match that left Sunderland only one point above the relegation zone. With Poyet's team having won only two Premier League games at home all season and relations between manager and board extremely tense, the scene was set for the separation confirmed on Monday.
Short said in a statement on Sunderland's website: "I would like to thank Gus for his endeavours during his time at the club, in particular last season's 'great escape' and cup final appearance, which will live long in the memory of every Sunderland fan. Sadly, we have not made the progress that any of us had hoped for this season and we find ourselves battling, once again, at the wrong end of the table. We have therefore made the difficult decision that a change is needed."
Poyet took first-team training at Sunderland's Academy of Light on Monday morning, before being summoned to have his fate sealed.