Sunderland hand Sbragia 18-month deal

LONDON - Ricky Sbragia, who has been in caretaker charge of Sunderland since Roy Keane quit three weeks ago, has been appointed manager on a full-time basis, the Premier League club announced on Saturday. "Ricky took up the reins when we were at a low ebb and has without doubt revitalised the club. He is the unanimous choice of the executive board," chairman Niall Quinn said on the club's website. Sbragia, a 52-year-old Scot, took charge early this month after former Manchester United and Ireland midfielder Keane walked out with the team in the relegation zone. In four matches since Keane's departure, Sunderland have impressed with four-goal wins over West Bromwich Albion and Hull City and Friday's goalless draw with Blackburn Rovers, which have lifted them to 14th place. Their only defeat was in his first game in charge away to Manchester United when they went down 1-0 to a last-minute goal. After a board meeting on Saturday morning it was announced that Sbragia, who was at the club from 1994-2002 as youth and reserve-team coach, had signed an 18-month contract to become the club's ninth manager in 17 years. "Ricky Sbragia is a thoroughly professional football person," said Quinn. "We have been taken aback by how easily he has slotted into the managerial role and are really heartened by his intelligent approach in dealing with the players and the day-to-day rigours of the job." Sbragia, preparing for Sunderland's game at Everton on Sunday, said: "My main priority is moving up the Premier League table and ensuring we have unity and stability at the club. "I've been extremely pleased by the commitment shown by the players to date and the support we have all received from the fans. We travel to Merseyside this afternoon and I can hardly wait." Sbragia returned to Sunderland a year ago having been first-team coach at Bolton Wanderers for two years, following three years as reserve-team coach at Manchester United.