ROBBIE STOCKDALE and Billy McKinlay are primed to take charge of training on Monday, and the pair will head into next week assuming they will be presiding over Sunderland’s return to Championship action against Millwall next weekend.

The Black Cats’ first-team squad have been given the weekend off – an arrangement that was in place prior to Simon Grayson’s departure – and when they report for duty on Monday morning, they will be put through their paces by Stockdale and McKinlay.

The pair were placed in caretaker charge when Grayson was dismissed a week-and-a-half ago, and led the team at the Riverside as Sunderland slumped to a 1-0 defeat to Middlesbrough last weekend.

At the time, it was widely assumed that would be their only game in charge, but with Martin Bain still to hold formal talks with any of the contenders to be Grayson’s long-term successor, they could yet find themselves patrolling the technical area at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

They have been running the rule over Millwall over the last few days, and will head into next week ready to put plans in place to face the Lions as Sunderland look to end an 11-month wait for a home victory.

Bain has been assessing potential managerial candidates over the last few days, and is set to step up his recruitment drive at the start of next week.

Aitor Karanka and Paul Heckingbottom remain strong contenders for the job, although both would have to be persuaded that Sunderland remains a desirable destination while Ellis Short remains willing to sell up.

Karanka valued the stability of his relationship with Steve Gibson during his time at Middlesbrough, and rejected the chance to take over at Birmingham City earlier this season because he was concerned about the potential for off-field instability at St Andrew’s.

Heckingbottom, who was on Sunderland’s books as a trainee, was strongly linked with the Nottingham Forest job before Mark Warburton was appointed in March, and is understood to have expressed reservations about the boardroom set-up at the City Ground.

Sources close to the Barnsley boss have, however, suggested, he would potentially be interested in a move to Wearside. He is currently on a rolling contract at Oakwell, and Sunderland would not have to pay a huge amount of compensation if they were to lure him to the North-East.

Whoever eventually takes over will inherit a side that have recorded just one Championship victory all season, but leading scorer Lewis Grabban insists the current situation is far from irretrievable.

The Black Cats find themselves at the foot of the table, three points adrift of Burton Albion in 21st position, but having scored eight league goals despite his side’s struggles, Grabban is confident Sunderland will turn things around provided they cut out the sloppy errors that have plagued their performances in the last few weeks.

“We just have to stick with it,” said the striker. “The league still hasn’t created a massive gap, so if we can get a couple of wins we’ll be out of the relegation zone and can begin looking upwards.

“The last (home) game (against Bolton), especially, we thought there was the opportunity to get the win, which we couldn’t because of a few errors.

“I thought we would go on to win it well. We were passing it well, the goal itself we cut through them quite easily, but for whatever reason, we switched off and they were able to score within a couple of minutes and you’re back to square one.

“We’ve been a bit unlucky in some aspects, but there are little mistakes that we need to cut out of our game. We need to have a bit more responsibility in all areas of the pitch – if we’re able to do that and put the good bits together for the majority of the game, then we’ll be fine.”