St Mirren could turn to Robbie Neilson to replace Jack Ross

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Jack Ross is on the verge of completing a move to Sunderland after St Mirren “reluctantly” agreed to allow the manager hold talks with the Wearside club.

The fact these negotiations were reported to have already begun earlier in the day led St Mirren chairman Gordon Scott to claim either the stories were false or some “major skulduggery” had taken place.

Jack Ross led St Mirren to the Championship title but is set to leave to take over at Sunderland. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS

Jack Ross led St Mirren to the Championship title but is set to leave to take over at Sunderland. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS

However, a statement released later by the club confirmed Ross was now in talks with the English League 1 side. He is expected to be unveiled at Sunderland on Thursday.

St Mirren will begin the search for a successor in the coming days. Former Hearts manager Robbie Neilson is among the leading candidates to take over at the newly promoted Premier League side.

Neilson has been out of football since being sacked by English side MK Dons, now in League 2.

Sunderland were relegated to English football’s third tier earlier this month but Ross has been attracted by a salary estimated to be five times what he is earning with St Mirren, as well as the club’s latent potential.

They have endured successive relegations since being a Premier League club just two seasons ago but were recently bought over by Stewart Donald, the owner of an Oxfordshire-based insurance brokers firm.

The club’s debt, reported to be as large as £100 million, was written-off by former owner Ellis Short as part of the deal. Over 16,000 season tickets have already been sold ahead of the new campaign in League 1, with Sunderland early favourites to gain automatic promotion.

“St Mirren Football Club can confirm we received a formal approach from Sunderland AFC for permission to speak to our manager Jack Ross,” the Paisley club said a statement. “After agreeing to our terms we have reluctantly given them permission to speak to Jack about their vacant manager’s position.”

St Mirren’s ‘terms’ are understood to include a release clause of as little as £50,000. Ross signed a new three-year deal at the 2021 Stadium as recently as August following interest from Dundee. He rejected a chance to go to Barnsley midway through last season.

The much admired Ross, who also recently held talks with Ipswich Town, is experiencing another summer punctuated by a serious career dilemma.

At one point yesterday one of the highest trending names in Britain on Twitter, just behind the late American novelist Philip Roth, Ross has become a high profile figure in British football after leading St Mirren to the Premier League.

The club were languishing in bottom place in the Championship when he arrived from Alloa Athletic. Just 19 months later Ross had turned St Mirren into champions, finishing 12 points ahead of second-placed Livingston and 23 ahead of third-placed Dundee United, the pre-season title favourites.

The ambitious 41-year-old clearly perceives Sunderland as another club where the only way is up.

Sunderland were rebuffed by Derek McInnes last summer, with the Aberdeen manager preferring to stay at Pittodrie.

Sunderland turned to Simon Grayson but he was sacked in October with the club in 22nd place in the Championship. He was replaced by Chris Coleman but the former Wales manager could not reverse the decline and left at the start of this month.

Ross is the 11th permanent manager to be appointed at Sunderland since 2009, which says it all about life at the troubled club in recent years.

St Mirren were furious at reports Ross, who is on holiday in Spain, had verbally agreed to move to Wearside on Wednesday morning.

“There has been no contact from Sunderland with us and Jack is on holiday, so unless there is some major skulduggery going on, then it’s nonsense,” stressed Gordon Scott, the St Mirren chairman.

“To hold talks with Jack, we would have to grant permission, as has been the case with Ipswich and Barnsley recently. But we’ve had no contact from Sunderland at all.”

Donald had earlier told talkSPORT that he was close to getting the man he wanted to replace Coleman. He told the radio station he was “absolutely jumping up and down” with joy at the prospect.

St Mirren, many hours after the story first broke, later confirmed they had granted permission for Sunderland to open talks with their manager.