Sunderland set to appoint ex-Preston North End and Norwich City boss Alex Neil as new head coach

Alex Neil has agreed to become Sunderland's next head coach.

The Echo understands that a deal, which will run until the end of the campaign initially, is now very close.

The Black Cats have been searching for a successor to Lee Johnson and were eager to make an appointment before the trip to AFC Wimbledon this weekend after two bruising results against Doncaster Rovers and Cheltenham Town.

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Roy Keane had long been the favourite to make a stunning return to Wearside, and it is understood that despite having significant support amongst the club hierarchy, the two parties could not come to an agreement.

Former Preston North End boss Alex Neil

Keane made his decision known to the club on Thursday morning, forcing them to look elsewhere on the shortlist established earlier this week.

They have moved to appoint Neil, who is expected to be announced imminently.

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Neil won an impressive promotion with Norwich City in his second managerial job, which was appealing as he took over late in the campaign before winning the play-offs.

Sunderland believe his preferred system and style will fit the current squad of players neatly, and he has a reputation for being an effective coach of a high-pressing system.

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The Black Cats also interviewed former Hull City boss Grant McCann and former Nottingham Forest boss Sabri Lamouchi, but were impressed with Neil and moved quickly after being unable to tempt Keane back to Wearside.

Neil is expected to take charge at Plough Lane, though his timeframe to make an impact is clearly limited.