SUNDERLAND UNDER-21s boss Graeme Murty is one of the candidates in the running to become the new manager of League One side Oxford United.

Oxford sacked long-serving boss Karl Robinson at the weekend after he oversaw a seventh defeat in the space of eight matches and saw the Us tumble to 17th place in the League One table.

Craig Short, Leon Blackmore-Such and Wayne Brown have been placed in caretaker charge at the Kassam Stadium, and are expected to preside over Saturday’s game at Lincoln City, but the Oxford board are keen to make a permanent appointment as quickly as possible and have drawn up a shortlist of potential candidates.

Murty is understood to feature on that shortlist, having previously expressed a desire to return to frontline management despite his current role being with Sunderland’s Under-21s.

The former defender was appointed as the Black Cats’ head of professional development phase, effectively giving him control of the Under-21s, last October.

He has previously worked as part of the youth set-up at both Southampton and Norwich City, and has had two spells as the first-team boss of Scottish Premier League side Rangers.

Oxford have not yet made a formal approach to Sunderland to seek permission to hold formal talks, but the Black Cats would be unlikely to stand in Murty’s way if he was offered a managerial position and expressed an interest in taking it.

Sunderland’s academy set-up has become more closely aligned with the first-team group in the last 12 months, with sporting director, Kristjaan Speakman, keen to smooth the pathway from the Black Cats’ youth teams to the senior squad.

Tony Mowbray has used the Under-21s to ensure some of his younger players get the opportunity to play competitive football in the early stages of their respective Sunderland careers, with Isaac Lihadji having become the latest first teamer to play for the development team earlier this month.

Speaking about Lihadji’s appearance in an Under-21s game against Derby County, Mowbray said: “As I say to these lads, I’m not a bully, I won’t be telling them they have to play. This kid has played Champions League, he's played for Lille. But he wants to play.

“I feel as if he needed to play but I can only say there's an opportunity for you to get some game-time, to put your boots on and go and play on a football pitch rather than small-sided games or possession sessions or crossing and finishing. I left it with him.”