Sunderland head coach Alex Neil in talks with Stoke over managerial vacancy

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Sunderland have confirmed that head coach Alex Neil is in talks with Stoke over their managerial vacancy.

The Black Cats insist they are committed to retaining the services of the 41-year-old Scot, who guided the club back into the Sky Bet Championship at the end of last season, but were “contractually obliged” to allow him to speak to the Potters following Michael O’Neill’s departure.

A club statement said: “Sunderland AFC can confirm that Alex Neil has entered into discussions with Stoke City regarding their current managerial vacancy.

“Following a formal approach by SCFC, the club is contractually obliged to permit the head coach to start a dialogue with the Potters.

“The club is committed to retaining Alex’s services as head coach and will be making no further comment at this moment in time.”

The announcement came less than an hour before Neil, who was appointed on a rolling 12-month contract in February, was due to speak to the media ahead of Saturday’s home clash with Norwich.

News that the former Norwich and Preston boss could leave Wearside would come as a blow to fans who saw him end the Black Cats’ four-year exile in League One at the first attempt with May’s play-off final victory over Wycombe.

Sunderland have lost only one of their five league games to date and currently sit in fifth place in the Championship table after last Saturday’s 1-0 win at Stoke.

By contrast, the Potters, who sacked O’Neill on Thursday, have won only once and have collected just four points to leave themselves perched just above the drop zone.