SUNDERLAND were last night slammed by the managers' union for sacking Howard Wilkinson and told: You need four years to build a team - not 20 games.

League Managers' Association vice-chairman Frank Clark, a former Sunderland No 2, accused his old club of acting with indecent haste in ditching Wilkinson and Steve Cotterill after just five months.

Remarkably, given the eagerness of trigger-happy chairmen to fire Premiership managers in recent years, Wilkinson and predecessor Peter Reid are the only top-flight bosses to lose their job this season.

But while ex-Newcastle United defender Clark welcomes that trend, he is angry that Wilkinson - who is also the LMA chairman - was not given the opportunity to implement his long-term plan at the Stadium of Light.

Clark said: "If you've been able to spend a lot of money and change the playing staff quickly, you should be looking for a fairly short-term improvement.

"But if the club has been in decline and you're stuck with the same players with not a penny to spend, it takes much longer.

"To totally transform a club, you're talking about three to four years - and 20 games is no time at all.

"The quick-fix option very rarely works.

"It's very difficult to change a team's fortunes around when you haven't got money to spend.

"Money can be a shortcut but it can be a long haul.

"Howard and Steve are two of the brightest lights in the English coaching system and it's a massive disappointment that they've been sacked.

"We've had some strange situations this year in the Nationwide League, with managers sacked after seven or ten games. It's ridiculous."

Clark's words were backed up by LMA chief executive John Barnwell, who was unhappy that Wilkinson was dismissed a fortnight after the Black Cats guaranteed his job was safe until beyond the summer.

He said: "Sunderland clearly stated two weeks ago that Howard's and Steve's positions were solid and that they would be with them for the start of next season.

"This dismissal came completely out of the blue and in terms of timing it just does not stack up.

"We felt that we had passed the point towards the end of the season for dismissals because clubs are running out of games to do anything about their problems.

"We can't dictate to chairmen or managers; we can just prove to them that the removal of managers after short terms in charge is historically not a successful move.

"If they appoint a replacement quickly, they will have had three managers in one season.

"Coventry and Derby also had three managers in one season - and look where they are now."

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