Barnsley head coach Paul Heckingbottom has confirmed there has been no approach from Sunderland about their managerial vacancy.
Heckingbottom, 40, has emerged as the bookmakers’ favourite to succeed former Sunderland boss Simon Grayson, who was sacked at the end of October.
Former Sunderland trainee Heckingbottom told a press conference before Barnsley’s trip to Norwich on Saturday that the Black Cats had not made contact.
“I’ve been asked this question multiple times from everyone and I didn’t comment on it then either,” Heckingbottom said in quotes reported on Barnsley’s official Twitter feed.
“Nothing else enters my head. My focus is on my job and my players. I now have to be careful what I say as I have a conversation on something and quotes can be taken out of context.”
Heckingbottom, who had spells as a player at Sheffield Wednesday, Barnsley and Bradford after leaving Sunderland without making a first-team appearance, was appointed as Lee Johnson’s replacement at Oakwell on a rolling 12-month contract in June 2016.
He had been installed as caretaker boss the previous January and went on to guide the Reds to victory in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final at Wembley and then promotion to the Championship via the play-offs.
Barnsley’s future remains uncertain after reports emerged in August of a proposed takeover by a consortium led by Chinese businessman Chien Lee, the majority stakeholder in Ligue 1 club Nice.
The Reds’ current owner, Patrick Cryne, is fighting cancer and revealed in an open letter to fans in September that he was “living on borrowed time”, but the club has remained tight-lipped about any takeover developments.
Sunderland chief executive Martin Bain has held talks with potential candidates, but the Sky Bet Championship club are understood to still be exploring their options.
Former Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka, Luton boss Nathan Jones, Ally McCoist and current Black Cats defender John O’Shea have all featured high in the bookmakers’ betting list of candidates for the vacancy.