MARTIN BAIN is hoping to start the process of conducting formal interviews for Sunderland’s vacant managerial position in the next 48 hours, with Aitor Karanka and Paul Heckingbottom both understood to be figuring prominently in his thoughts.

Bain has been canvassing opinion from a number of different quarters since dismissing Simon Grayson last week, and has begun to sound out some of the out-of-work candidates who are under consideration.

Karanka falls into that category, and while there has been no direct contact with the former Middlesbrough manager, Bain is aware of the Spaniard’s potential interest in the vacancy at the Stadium of Light.

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Karanka set tongues wagging on social media on Tuesday night when he posted a picture of him standing at King’s Cross station in London with the phrase, “Next stop….”

That led to intensified speculation linking him with both Sunderland and Rangers, but Karanka is simply believed to have been returning to his home in North Yorkshire following a family break in Spain.

He is, however, keen to return to management, and while Bain would have to provide some clarity about Sunderland’s future direction under Ellis Short before he would seriously consider taking over on Wearside, he has not dismissed the idea out of hand.

Karanka has turned down job offers from Birmingham and Alaves since parting company with Middlesbrough, but knows he cannot wait forever as he looks to get back into work in England.

If the 44-year-old can be persuaded to take over at Sunderland, his appointment should be a relatively quick process as he is not on the books of another club and the Black Cats would not be forced to pay compensation for his services.

It would be much more difficult to prise Heckingbottom from Barnsley, but the former Sunderland trainee, who also spent time with Hartlepool United, Darlington and Gateshead during a much-travelled playing career, is known to have his supporters among the corridors of power at the Stadium of Light.

He has impressed since initially taking charge of Barnsley in a caretaker capacity following the departure of Danny Wilson in 2015. He was made caretaker again when Lee Johnson left Oakwell in 2016, and became Barnsley’s permanent head coach after winning both the Football League Trophy final and League One play-off final at Wembley last season.

His Barnsley side currently sit in 16th position in the Championship, having comprehensively outplayed Sunderland as they beat them 3-0 at the end of August.

Heckingbottom has publicly refused to comment on the Sunderland job, but for all that he would inherit a host of problems if he was to move to Wearside, he might well feel he has taken Barnsley as far as he realistically can.

Luton Town boss Nathan Jones is one of the lower-league managers to have been linked with the Black Cats, but he was keen to play down talk of a potential move as he held his press conference ahead of the Hatters’ weekend game with Cheltenham Town yesterday.

Jones, who was on Chris Hughton’s coaching staff at Brighton prior to being appointed at Kenilworth Road, has led Luton into the top three in League Two this season, and insists he has had no contact with Sunderland officials.

“It’s very flattering,” said Jones. “They’re a massive club, and to get linked with things like that, you’re obviously doing things right in your own backyard.

“I’m always laidback about these things. If these things materialise, they materialise. Right now, I’m concentrating on doing well for Luton Town.

“I think it’s important you keep your feet on the ground when you hear speculation. It’s not the first time, God willing it won’t be the last, but all you can do is just get on with your job.

“We’re in a real good place here, and I love my job here. I love working for this club. It’s wonderfully flattering to be linked with a massive club, and it just shows that we’re doing good work, but until anyone tells me any different, it’s speculation.”

Meanwhile, Sunderland midfielder Elliot Embleton was on target for England Under-19s in Bulgaria on Wednesday night as they kicked off the defence of their European Championships title with a resounding 6-0 win over the Faroe Islands.

Embleton found the back of the net in an England win that also saw Arsenal striker Eddie Nketiah claim four goals.