HOWARD WILKINSON last night warned Mick McCarthy that he faces a daunting task in trying to reverse Sunderland's ailing fortunes as the club prepared to unveil the former Republic of Ireland coach as their third manager of a turbulent season today.

With McCarthy expected to be officially appointed as Sunderland boss this morning, ending his four-month hiatus from the game after his departure from the Ireland job in November, Wilkinson spoke of the "difficult and unpleasant decisions" that his successor must make.

Speaking after he left the club's Academy of Light training complex for the final time yesterday lunchtime, Wilkinson said: "I still believe that Sunderland is a club with enormous potential but there's lots of hard work to be done.

"It will take time, and there will be difficult and unpleasant decisions to be taken along the way. Steve and I were aware of that from the start.

"Undoubtedly the situation we inherited was difficult. The team was already involved in a relegation fight when we arrived and our job was not made easier by our inability to bring new players in."

McCarthy and his assistant Ian Evans, the former Ireland No 2, will have just nine games to save Sunderland's Premiership skin - beginning with Saturday's visit of relegation rivals Bolton Wanderers to the Stadium of Light.

They will take charge of a side whose confidence is as low as their League position, having lost a club record six Premiership matches in succession.

Wilkinson won just two of his 20 League games, yet he remained adamant last night that the "profound shock" of his sudden departure has not left him disillusioned with the game.

He added: "I came to Sunderland with my eyes wide open and knew we would face difficulties, but still thought that they could be dealt with in time.

"I am not surprised by anything that happens in football but still felt profound shock when it actually happened.

"I am bitterly disappointed that we did not give the Sunderland fans what they wanted as the majority were very good to us. We worked as hard as we could and gave it our all.

"Ironically, I think our last game was one of our best performances and remain confident that the team will get a result at the weekend.

"I still feel optimistic about the future, and wish the club and its supporters all the best.

"Football is also losing a great young manager in Steve but I'm sure he'll bounce back and make a big impact.

"The experience has not diluted my taste for management; if anything, it has whet my appetite for more.

"I was still enjoying the challenge until Monday night and hate leaving like this.

"We were committed to Sunderland in the long and short term but sadly we will no longer be involved. It's something I'm not used to."

As Wilkinson vowed to bounce back, Cotterill was left to contemplate a possible law suit from Stoke City as it emerged Sunderland have still not paid the First Division club compensation for his services.

Stoke have already turned down Sunderland's offer of £165,000, his annual salary at the Britannia Stadium, and could now pursue a separate claim for breach of contract against their erstwhile manager.

A Stoke spokesman confirmed: "Negotiations with Sunderland over compensation for Steve Cotterill are still ongoing."

The Potters claim Sunderland made an illegal approach for Cotterill, who was only in charge of the club for 13 games.

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