MICK McCARTHY has light-heartedly paid tribute to Darlington boss David Hodgson for proving that it is possible to guide a North-East club into the upper echelons of their respective tables.

Newcastle United and Hartlepool United have both sacked their managers, Graeme Souness and Martin Scott, over the past couple of weeks and the focus has turned on the other under-fire men at the region's clubs.

McCarthy, whose Sunderland side prop up the Premiership table after winning just two games, and his Middlesbrough counterpart Steve McClaren are being monitored closely after dreadful runs of form.

In the Black Cats' case the situation has deteriorated to such an extent that he was forced to deny the suggestion there had been a war of words with his chairman, Bob Murray.

And for Boro, who need to claim something from today's match with Chelsea to ease their own relegation worries, ongoing talk of dressing room unrest has threatened to increase the chances of him being axed.

Hodgson, meanwhile, has been quietly left to get on with his duties after taking Darlington up into the League Two play-off zone - making him the rank outsider in the remaining runners for the region's sack race.

"In the North-East there are two managers gone, two under pressure and hanging by a thread, good old Hodgy saves the day," said McCarthy. "I'll have to ring him up and thank him for keeping things together up here."

But McCarthy, who is using the embarrassing 19 point tally of 2003 in a bid to spur his team on ahead of tomorrow's visit of Tottenham, is remaining optimistic better times are ahead and Sunderland can claim a first home win sooner rather than later.

"We finish May 7, we're not booking our holidays yet, anyone who comes here will have to fight for their points," he said.

"It's not one person's fault that we're in this position, it's not turned to gold for us but we're still scrapping and it'll be a hell of a fight for Spurs. We've not had that home win but we'll be trying our hardest."

Such has been the frustration suffered by McCarthy this week, the Sunderland boss would not be surprised to see a youthful Glenn Hoddle remarkably pull on a Tottenham shirt at the Stadium of Light tomorrow.

McCarthy has reportedly been at loggerheads with Murray, over quotes he claims were taken out of context, so he has enjoyed better times on Wearside.

And whether or not relegation was in the club's mind when they were planning for the first season back in the Premiership, there is no ambiguity surrounding Sunderland's placing at the bottom of the table.

Having failed to win any of their home league games this season - they are yet to win a top-flight match at the Stadium of Light since December 15, 2002 - McCarthy's side have done well to keep crowds around the 30,000 mark.

The same sort of attendance is expected to be seated to witness Tottenham arrive in the North-East, when Sunderland are looking to win for only the third time in the league this season.

Spurs have a major doubt over the fitness of Dutch superstar Edgar Davids and there is a chance Egyptian striker Mido could stay in his homeland after an African Nations Cup bust-up with his national team coach - a feud that has now seen reconciliation.

And McCarthy is happy to face whatever team Jol selects. "If Mido plays against us then that would just sum our season up really," said McCarthy. "They've probably re-signed Glenn Hoddle as well!

"But we don't want to beat their weakened team, we want to beat their strongest team. That's my mindset and I would like to think that's how my players are viewing things."

Albeit with a more expansive chequebook, McCarthy's plot to sign home-grown lower league talents with plenty of potential is not too dissimilar to the approach adopted by Martin Jol.

Jol, who has also had the financial clout to throw huge wages at internationally renowned players, has swooped for a number of Football League players in recent seasons in a bid to ensure a bright future at White Hart Lane.

Andy Reid and Michael Dawson have arrived from Nottingham Forest, Aaron Lennon from Leeds and Tom Huddlestone made a move from Derby in moves designed to keep Tottenham ticking along with British talent as well as foreign.

McCarthy, who has not had the scope to attract the likes of Davids, has done his own wheeling and dealing in the lower leagues by signing the likes of Dean Whitehead, Liam Lawrence, Danny Collins, Tommy Miller and Kelvin Davis.

And McCarthy said: "It's a nice position for Spurs to be in. They've done it cleverly, they picked up players on the cheap, from clubs in trouble, young British talent.

"If watching them beat Charlton last Sunday was meant to cheer me up it didn't. I think 11 out of 16 of their players were British."

On the training field McCarthy's insists his playing staff have felt no repercussions from the fall-out from the reputed manager-chairman bust-up.

"What's happened has not affected the players," he said. "There's never been a row or a rift, there was a response to the headlines, I was as annoyed with the story as everyone with the club was.

"Do you think I'd have still been here if I'd said in the summer I want a team to play in the Championship or that I stand on the sidelines jumping up and down like I do if I didn't want us to stay up? Do me a favour.

"The fans know I want to win games, anybody who thinks I don't is in cloud cuckoo land."

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