Former Sunderland and Republic of Ireland international Kevin Kilbane has admitted he was left surprised by Sunderland's decision to part company with manager Martin O'Neill at such a late stage in the season.
O'Neill was relieved of his position late on Saturday night following a 1-0 defeat to Manchester United that leaves the club just one point above the relegation zone. A player who enjoyed four seasons at the Stadium of Light, Kilbane admitted that the lack of potential successors to O'Neill makes Sunderland's decision hard to understand.
"I'm very surprised really at such a late stage in the season," Kilbane told ESPN. Whoever comes in now, are they going to get a reaction? I think that's the problem you find when you make a sacking so late on the season. There's no standout candidate for me that's going to come in and really lift the place to take over from Martin O'Neill."
"His tactical nous is obviously there because he's been in management such a long time. He's not necessarily that training ground manager that probably some owners and football clubs are looking for but in general Martin O'Neill is an excellent manager you can't get away from that fact. He's a great football man. He's been in the game for a really long time. I think the levels he's managing and coaching at, the players should really take care of themselves.
"I said even when I was playing, players need to stand up and take responsibility. The manager picks the team and goes about things his way then as soon as the players cross the line its down to them. Ultimately the buck is going to stop with the manager because he's the one that's held accountable but the players do have to accept responsibility in the sacking of a manager, and he's gone now. The players have now got to lift themselves and keep the club in the Premier League because that's paramount at this stage in the season."