LONDON: Sunderland sacked manager Martin O’Neill hours after a 1-0 home defeat by Manchester United which pushed Black Cats deeper into trouble and Sir Alex Ferguson’s men closer to regaining the Premier League title.

An own goal from Titus Bramble set United on their way. The defender deflected a left-wing cross-shot from Robin Van Persie past keeper Simon Mignolet in the 27th minute. That secured United’s seventh successive league victory though they had to withstand heavy Sunderland pressure in the closing stages.

Sunderland rarely tested United keeper David De Gea as they extended their run without a league win to eight games in front of a crowd of 43,760.

A club statement said: “Sunderland AFC has announced that it has parted company with manager Martin O’Neill this evening. The club would like to place on record its thanks to Martin and wishes him well for the future. An announcement will be made in the coming days regarding a successor.”

A run of eight league games without a win which has yielded only three points ultimately cost O’Neill his job after a little more than 15 months at the helm.

The Black Cats’ last victory came at Wigan on January 19, and with trips to European champions Chelsea and rivals Newcastle to come ahead of bogey team Everton’s visit to the Stadium of Light on April 20, things could get worse before they get better.

O’Neill, of course, was the man whose appointment Sunderland fans had craved for years, and his arrival at the Stadium of Light in December 2011 was greeted with delight. The Northern Irishman had never made any secret of his boyhood affection for the club and the chance to manage them fulfilled a long-held dream

Relegation trouble

His start was just what owner and chairman Ellis Short was looking for as a run of seven victories in his first 10 league games eased the club out of relegation trouble and sent spirits soaring.

The Black Cats ran out of steam towards the end of the campaign but with their top-flight status secured and the promise of a summer rebuilding programme, attention turned to the new campaign with genuine optimism.

That only increased when Short provided O’Neill with a total of £22m with which to buy Scotland striker Steven Fletcher and England winger Adam Johnson. In January O’Neill was provided with the funding to add Danny Graham and Alfred N’Diaye to the squad – all in vain.

Elsewhere Manchester City kept up their increasingly futile chase of United with a 4-0 home dismissal of Newcastle. Carlos Tevez and David Villa gave Roberto Mancini’s men the first-half advantage before Vincent Kompany and an own goal from James Perch completed an easy win.

Tottenham moved up into third place with a 2-1 win at League Cup holders Swansea inspired by another superb display by Gareth Bale. The Wales star set up Jan Vertonghen for his seventh minute opener then flicked home a superb 21st-minute effort to increase his side’s lead. Michu gave Swansea hope with a 71st-minute header.

Chelsea dropped to fourth place after a surprise 2-1 defeat at struggling Southampton. Rickie Lambert’s 35th-minute free-kick secured a 2-1 win after an early opener from Jay Rodriguez had been cancelled out by a header from John Terry.

Mauricio Pochettino’s men improved their survival prospects thanks to a superb save from substitute keeper Kelvin Davis to deny Victor Moses.

Gunners on fire

Arsenal moved within two points of Chelsea by crushing Reading 4-1, a crushing start for the visitors’ new manager Nigel Adkins who saw his team drop to the bottom of the table on goal difference.

Gervinho opened the scoring after 11 minutes and Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud increased the Gunners’ lead before Hal Robson Kanu gave the visitors a glimmer of hope in the 68th minute.

But Arsene Wenger’s men sealed their win in the 77th minute when Adrian Mariappa fouled Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the box and Mikel Arteta converted the penalty.

Everton stayed in the hunt for Champions League football with a 1-0 win over Stoke on a solo effort from Kevin Mirallas.

At the other end of the table Roberto Martinez’s Wigan moved out of the relegation zone thanks to a late strike from Aruna Kone to beat Norwich 1-0. Kone’s 10th goal of the season came with just nine minutes left.

Andy Carroll scored twice as West Ham eased their own relegation fears with a 3-1 win over West Bromwich Albion at Upton Park. Carroll headed a 16th-minute opener and after Gary O’Neil made it 2-0 Carroll added his second after 80 minutes.

Graeme Dorrans pulled one back for Albion from the penalty spot before Youssouf Mulumbu was sent off in injury time for dissent.

In SCOTLAND Rangers secured the Third Division title to complete stage one of their journey back to the top of Scottish Football despite being held goalless at Montrose.

Nearest rivals Queen’s Park cannot catch the Ibrox outfit after losing 1-0 at home to Elgin.

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