THE Stadium of Light crowd have voiced their displeasure at a number of different targets this season. Simon Grayson was serenaded with chants of “You’re getting sacked in the morning” in the closing stages of Tuesday’s 3-3 draw with Bolton; in the end, he only survived for four or five minutes after the game. Sunderland’s players have been told “You’re not fit to wear the shirt”, while cries of “We want Short out” have featured on the soundtrack at matches on Wearside for a couple of years now.

Up until now, however, one man has avoided being directly targeted by Sunderland’s understandably frustrated fans. Yet as the search begins for the Black Cats’ ninth permanent manager in the last six years, he, more than anyone else, has the club’s fate in his hands.

Martin Bain has been Sunderland’s chief executive for almost 18 months, and in that time he has overseen a relegation, the appointment and subsequent dismissal of two managers, the redundancy of around 70 members of staff and a run of results that has seen his club equal the English record for successive home matches without a victory. Suffice to say, things have not really gone to plan.

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A former model who entered the world of football via the commercial department at Rangers, Bain is no stranger to working in testing environments. In 2011, he attempted to block the contentious sale of Rangers to its majority shareholder Craig Whyte, and was subsequently suspended by Whyte when the deal went through. He sued for damages, alleging a breach of contract, but dropped the legal proceedings in 2012.

So he is used to having to fight his corner and tackle fraught situations head on. Off the pitch, it can be argued he has made some difficult decisions that have helped stabilise Sunderland’s finances at a time when the club’s owner, Ellis Short, has effectively pulled down the shutters and given up.

This summer’s redundancies were controversial, but during its ten seasons in the Premier League, Sunderland had grown into a bloated behemoth that was ripe for some pruning. The attention-seeking tie-ups with companies and initiatives in Africa and the Far East were sensibly abandoned, and the drive to turn the Stadium of Light into a leading venue for music was shelved in order to focus on the main business of winning football games. The wins haven’t come, but the shift in emphasis has nevertheless been welcome.

When Bain was appointed, Sunderland’s most recent set of accounts displayed a debt of around £110m, a loss in the previous financial year of £33m and a wage bill that had spiralled to £83m despite the club’s position close to the foot of the Premier League.

The finances were a mess, and while fans might question where this year’s parachute payments of £45m has disappeared to, not to mention the £30m that was received from the sale of Jordan Pickford, the black hole in the accounts provides an immediate answer.

Bain has steadied the ship financially, reducing the wage bill to a point where Short is no longer required to make massive investments just to keep Sunderland afloat. That was one of his key tasks when he agreed to take over from Margaret Byrne, and he can claim to have fulfilled it.

Yet football is not like any other business, and while financial security is to be applauded, it will eventually be undermined if things go awry on the pitch. In a footballing sense, Bain’s Wearside reign has been a disaster, and unless his next managerial appointment goes to plan, it is hard to see how he can survive whether Short remains at the helm or not.

Bain championed the appointment of David Moyes after Sam Allardyce walked out to take charge of England, and stood by his fellow Scot despite Sunderland’s slide to a relegation that had looked inevitable long before it was finally confirmed. From an early stage of last season, it was clear that Moyes’ downbeat, negative approach was having a detrimental effect on performances. Yet Bain steadfastly championed “a first-class manager and a first-class man”. His loyalty was both misguided and damaging.

Moyes’ departure created an opportunity for a new beginning, but last summer’s search for a manager was a shambles from start to finish. Bain appeared to rely heavily on his Scottish contacts for guidance, most notably former Rangers manager Walter Smith, and eventually settled on Aberdeen’s Derek McInnes as his number one choice.

The courting of McInnes became a very public act, much to the annoyance of the Aberdeen hierarchy at Pittodrie, and Sunderland were made to look somewhat clueless when their number one target turned them down.

That led Bain to turn to Grayson, and in fairness to the chief executive, when the recently-deposed manager was appointed, it was hard to see foresee such a rapid disaster. It is easy to use the benefit of hindsight to question Grayson’s credentials, but he is an experienced manager with four promotions to the Championship on his CV. That he underperformed so dramatically remains something of a surprise.

Even so, the events of the last three days have left Bain in a position where he finds himself scouring managerial CVs once more. And whereas in the summer he was able to paint the picture of a team ripe for rebuilding despite its recent relegation, he will now have to talk up the attractiveness of a club sitting in the Championship relegation zone, having spent £1.25m on ten players in the summer. Good luck with that.

It is hard to see how this month’s search for a manager will be any easier than the summer’s tortuous trawl through the job market, but Bain cannot afford to get his next decision wrong. Plenty of people have claimed the current Sunderland side should be much higher in the table than they are, citing the presence of established internationals as evidence that the team is ‘too good to go down’. The brutal reality is that we are now in November and Sunderland are in the bottom three. They are not in a false position.

That said, there is still time to improve things, but only if Bain can appoint a manager capable of instilling some organisation, pride and spirit into a squad that has been devoid of all three so far this season. If he cannot, his efforts at off-field organisation will count for nothing with Sunderland in League One.