Former England international Alan Shearer has described the timing of Sunderland's decision to part company with manager Martin O'Neill as "bizarre."
The Black Cats announced the move last night after their 1-0 defeat by Manchester United saw the club sitting just a point clear of the Premier League relegation zone with seven games left to play.
The Wearside club's next game sees them face Chelsea before a north-east derby against fellow strugglers Newcastle.
Shearer expressed astonishment that Sunderland had released O'Neill with just seven matches left to retain their top-flight status.
Speaking on BBC1's 'Match of the Day', the former Newcastle striker and manager said: "It's bizarre. They have gone down the route that Reading have (sacking Brian McDermott).
"I look at him in the last few weeks and normally he comes on telly, we see him upbeat, looking forward to things.
"To me he's been down, he's not been his usual, energetic self - whether he's known that something is going on behind the scenes I don't know.
"They are on a terrible run of form but it is the timing of it I find hard.
"I think he might have missed his right-hand man John Robertson, who for the first time hadn't been with him at his side."
"I think they are in massive trouble" - Alan Hansen
"For whatever reason he didn't choose to go to Sunderland like he'd been with all his other clubs with him so I think he has probably missed him as well."
Fellow pundit Alan Hansen added: "The rewards for success and the penalties for failure have never been greater.
"Next season the new Premier League deal - if you are left behind, if you go down a division you are in massive trouble.
"You've got QPR, you've got Reading, you've got Southampton and now Sunderland: there are seven games to go.
“Are they better with Martin or without him? I always thought Sunderland would be safe... for the first time today they were really poor.
"I think they are in massive trouble."