Rob Edwards is leading the race to be Middlesbrough boss - with Gary O'Neil also in the running

Former Watford boss Rob Edwards
Former Watford boss Rob Edwards

ROB EDWARDS has emerged as the leading candidate to replace Chris Wilder at Middlesbrough, with the Teessiders also interested in stand-in Bournemouth boss Gary O’Neil.

Wilder was dismissed yesterday morning after Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Coventry City left Boro floundering in the Championship relegation zone, with his departure coming just 11 months after he was installed as Neil Warnock’s successor at the Riverside.

Leo Percovich will take over first-team affairs on an interim basis, and will oversee tomorrow’s home game with Birmingham City alongside Craig Liddle, Mark Tinkler and Lee Cattermole.

However, Boro chairman Steve Gibson and head of football Kieran Scott would ideally like to have a permanent replacement for Wilder in place by the time their side travel to Millwall this weekend, with Edwards and O’Neil both currently in the running.

Discussions with Edwards are already understood to have taken place, with the highly-rated coach currently out of work following his dismissal from Boro’s Championship rivals, Watford, at the end of last month.

Having retired from playing at the age of just 30, Edwards worked as part of the academy operation at Wolves and was also involved with the coaching of England’s junior sides at Under-16s and Under-20s level before being appointed as the head coach of Forest Green Rovers in the summer of 2021.

He led Forest Green to promotion from League Two in his first season in charge, with his efforts seeing him installed as Watford’s new manager this summer. However, he only lasted ten games before he was sacked at Vicarage Road, with Watford’s ownership group turning to Slaven Bilic as his replacement.

Watford’s tendency to change managers means his reputation was not really dented by his rapid departure from the Hornets, with Gibson and Scott known to have been impressed with his achievements at Forest Green.

The duo are also investigating the possibility of prising O’Neil from his current position as interim boss of Premier League side Bournemouth. Ironically, Wilder was heavily linked with replacing O’Neil at the Vitality Stadium in his final week as Middlesbrough boss.

O’Neil spent four years with Boro as a player, making more than 100 league appearances for the club between 2007-2011, although his spell in the North-East was not without controversy as he suggested in an interview conducted after the end of his playing career that he purposefully picked up a booking that triggered a suspension towards the end of the ill-fated 2008-09 season because he ‘wanted to watch the US Masters’ rather than contribute to Boro’s battle against relegation.

He joined Bournemouth’s coaching staff in February 2021, initially working under former Boro boss Jonathan Woodgate, and was placed in caretaker charge of the Cherries at the end of August following the dismissal of Scott Parker.

He has impressed in his month in the role, leading Bournemouth to a win over Nottingham Forest and draws against Wolves, Newcastle United and Brentford, but his long-term future remains uncertain.

While Bournemouth’s current board are understood to be keen to offer O’Neil a permanent contract until at least the end of the season, it has been suggested that the club’s prospective new owner, Bill Foley, wants to be able to appoint his own choice of boss once he assumes control.

That would explain the current stand-off, which Boro could potentially exploit. The Teessiders have sounded out the possibility of recruiting O’Neil, but will move on swiftly if it becomes clear that the 39-year-old will not be leaving the south coast.

Both O’Neil and Edwards are regarded as progressive young coaches who would potentially be a much better fit in Boro’s new off-field structure, led by Scott in his head of football role, than either Wilder or his predecessor, Neil Warnock.

Following the same logic, Boro have also been linked with Anthony Barry, a Chelsea coach who has previously worked under Paul Cook at Wigan Athletic.

Barry reportedly turned down the chance to take over at Huddersfield Town last month as he is set to work under Roberto Martinez and Thierry Henry as part of Belgium’s coaching team at the forthcoming World Cup in Qatar.

Boro have also been linked with former Huddersfield Town boss Carlos Corberan, but the Spaniard is not understood to feature on their wanted list.

Corberan led Huddersfield to the play-off final last season, where they lost to Nottingham Forest, but resigned from his position at the John Smith’s Stadium in the summer. He took over at Greek club Olympiacos, but was sacked after winning just two of his 11 matches in charge of the club.

Similarly, while Sean Dyche has been touted as a potential candidate, Boro will not be making a move for the former Burnley boss, who has been out of work since leaving Turf Moor last season.

Confirmation of Wilder’s exit from the Riverside arrived early yesterday morning, with Gibson having decided to act in the wake of Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Coventry.

Boro’s statement said: “Middlesbrough Football Club have terminated the contract of manager Chris Wilder with immediate effect.

“Leo Percovich will take over first-team affairs in the interim basis, assisted by Craig Liddle, Mark Tinkler and Lee Cattermole.

“The club would like to place on record its thanks to Chris and his staff for all their hard work over the past 11 months.”