SUNDERLAND have turned their attention to Wales boss Chris Coleman as they look to appoint a new boss, although Paul Heckingbottom remains in the running for the managerial vacancy at the Stadium of Light.

Michael O’Neill is no longer under consideration for the role, having declined an opportunity to speak to Sunderland officials. However, senior Black Cats figures are adamant the Northern Ireland boss was never offered the job, and was merely one of a number of candidates who are still being assessed by chief executive Martin Bain.

Bain is understood to have made contact with Coleman to sound out his potential interest, and the Wales manager’s odds tumbled yesterday, with most bookmakers now making him an odds-on favourite to be named as Sunderland’s next boss. Having started the day at 25-1, Coleman was backed to as short as 1-10 at one stage, although his price has subsequently lengthened slightly.

The Wales boss’ current contract is due to expire later this month, and having watched his side draw 1-1 with Panama earlier this week, he admitted he might have presided over his final game in charge of his country.

Coleman held some informal talks about extending his spell as Wales manager last month, but is yet to have any formal contract discussions with the Welsh FA.

However, there is a WFA board meeting scheduled for this morning at which his demands for a new contract will be discussed. Coleman is understood to be seeking new full-time deals for Ryland Morgans, Wales’ head of performance, and Ian Mitchell, the team’s psychologist. He is also wanting a commitment over future investment into youth development and an assurance about the WFA’s long-term vision for Welsh football.

With that in mind, the timing of yesterday’s developments is interesting, although Coleman has never hidden his desire to eventually return to club management.

He managed at Fulham, Real Sociedad, Coventry City and Greek side AEL prior to taking charge of Wales, and was heavily linked with the Leicester City job last month before the Foxes eventually appointed Claude Puel.

He is known to be willing to manage in the Championship if an attractive opportunity arises, but it remains to be seen whether he regards the Sunderland job as a desirable role. The Black Cats currently sit at the foot of the Championship table, having won just one of their 16 league games this season, and have been through eight permanent managers in the last six years.

A move to Sunderland would result in a significant pay increase, but Coleman has previously expressed a reluctance to move too far away from his current base in Winchester given that he has recently started a new family.

At the very least he is in Sunderland’s thoughts though, and the same is true of Heckingbottom, who refused to discuss the managerial vacancy on Wearside during a press conference at Oakwell yesterday.

Heckingbottom was repeatedly questioned about Sunderland’s interest in his services, but evaded all talk of the Black Cats.

Significantly, though, he refused to categorically rule out a move to the North-East, and hinted at a desire to move on from his current role at some stage in the future. Heckingbottom is understood to be keen to talk to Sunderland officials, but continues to harbour reservations about the club’s financial position and the possible effects of a future takeover.

When asked whether there had been contact from Sunderland, Heckingbottom said: “No, there hasn’t. We have been sat here before, so the situation is no different. I have been asked these sorts of questions before about different clubs at different times. It is just what happens in football, it is all hypothetical.

“Until anything happens, I can’t tell you because I don’t know the club’s thoughts on it or my thoughts on it. We’ve obviously spoken and had these conversations (him and Barnsley) but they will remain private. As it stands, there is nothing in it.

“It is not being big-headed in any way, but you would like to think you are on people’s lists. Whether they will take it any further is down to them, but it is no different to me sitting here before when I have been asked similar questions about other situations.”

O’Neill had figured prominently on Bain’s shortlist, but the Northern Ireland boss is understood to be keen to talk to the Scottish FA about the possibility of succeeding Gordon Strachan as Scotland manager.

Ally McCoist is one of the few candidates to have publicly confirmed his desire to take charge of Sunderland, and the former Rangers boss reaffirmed his interest in the role yesterday.

When asked whether he would be keen, he said: “Of course, why would you not? Sunderland is a fantastic club. It is a club that is very close to my heart. I have had season tickets there ever since I left, at Roker Park and the Stadium of Light.

“The North-East is arguably THE place for football in the United Kingdom. I just feel the Sunderland fans, for the first time in a long time, have clearly lost a little bit of heart and a little bit of belief. The numbers are dwindling, so it is massively important that Sunderland get it right.”