UNDER-FIRE chairman Bob Murray last night hailed Howard Wilkinson and Steve Cotterill as the right men to take Sunderland out of their crisis.

The Black Cats are staring down the barrel of relegation after just two League wins since the managerial team took over in October.

But Murray, who remains confident Sunderland can avoid the drop, has given the pair 100 per cent backing, insisting they will be still in charge even if the club are in the Natiowide League next season.

The Stadium of Light supremo handed Wilkinson the manager's job after sacking Peter Reid and Murray believes he made the right appointment.

"I am certain I have made the right decision, in both of them," he said. "If the worst comes to the worst they will be manager and assistant manager of Sunderland next season.

"I am very confident we can stay up. That's all I can say but obviously things have to change enormously.

"The home games worry me a lot. But if the players can get the support and the confidence back at home I think we are certainties to stay up."

Provided the match beats the big freeze that has already led to the postponement of the Tees-Tyne derby at the Riverside today, Sunderland have the perfect chance to get things back on track on Wearside against Charlton Athletic.

But considering the club's plight - they are second from bottom in the Premiership - many fans will again choose to steer clear of the Stadium of Light.

During Tuesday night's 1-0 defeat at home to Southampton, sections of the crowd started to direct their frustrations at Murray and the rest of the Sunderland board - with many disgruntled at the club's lack of transfer activity on the build-up to last night's closure of the transfer window.

But Murray, who admits the club has debts of over £25m, is adamant that he will not allow his beloved Sunderland to be crippled by further debts, like those that have seen relegated Derby, Leicester and Bradford struggle to pay bills.

Although he is optimistic of Premiership status in August, he also revealed he has to be prepared for the worst.

"We are not planning for the Nationwide League," he said. "I think it's quite amazing, considering the club's current run, that we have even got a chance of staying up.

"Leicester were relegated early on last season with a similar number of points. But what we are planning for is that we don't want to become a Leicester or a Derby.

"We want to be in a situation where the business survives. This is the problem about the Premiership and what makes it so exciting, it's the fear factor.

"The effect of going down has never been greater because it can cost the club their lives. It would cost the club about £20m if we did go down."

He added: "Sunderland are in an excellent financial position and if we were to go down then we would be in a position to bounce straight back up.

"We are at the height of our borrowing level so we are not in a position to bring anyone in. Everything is proportionate.

"I can understand why banks won't lend money to clubs like they used to. One of our bankers banked for Bradford City and the boss there believes they shouldn't loan any money to any football club."

Murray used the example of Leeds United to show how large spending on players can soon lead to long-term damage.

Leeds sold Jonathan Woodgate to Newcastle yesterday and the Teesside centre-back followed Lee Bowyer, Olivier Dacourt, Robbie Fowler, Robbie Keane and Rio Ferdinand out of Elland Road.

Murray said: "We are very much aware of what's happened at other clubs and it's something that is very new to all clubs.

"One minute Leeds were talking about having a new stadium and now they are having all kinds of problems.

"We have not been skimpy here. We have spent over £22m on players and I have got the seventh highest wage bill in football at the second from bottom team - they don't go hand in hand so I'm going to have to deal with that.

"I think there is a lot of financial pressure on a lot of successful clubs. Arsenal have just lost £22m and they won the championship. We have just seen a transfer window where nobody opened the curtains."

Being a Sunderland fan at heart, Murray insists he has been sad to hear the jibes directed his way during Sunderland's dismal run.

But he has no intentions of turning his back on the job and he admitted that he is determined to turn things around.

But he revealed he doesn't blame anyone but himself for the status quo.

"I have always been a fighter," he said. "I know I'm not popular at the moment and that's not for the first time, in fact I've been unpopular quite a few times.

"It hurts. It's very personal. My wife can't understand it because 18 years in the chair here has taken its toll on the health.

"But what the fans must not do is let it affect the players. They are the ones who go out and pull on the shirt. They are terrified to go out there.

"I deal with it with great difficulty. It's just something that happens in football when you are in the game a long time.

"This time last year I was signing autographs. But it can happen everywhere.

"But I'm very commited to the club. I have always been at Sunderland and I've had some very good times here and I'm going to see it through the current crisis - which is 24 and a half months long.

"How a team can go from second in the League in 78 games to failing miserably consistently is unbelievable."

He added: "I am not blaming anybody for the current situation. I'm the chairman and the buck stops with me.

"I have never been as close to Peter Reid as people think. I have never criticised him, it's always been done privately.

"You cannot work with somebody for more than seven seasons, going on the rollercoaster that this club always goes on without getting close to people. But it never impaired my professional judgement."

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