Ever since Morrisons announced that Bob Stott would be standing down as chief executive, the speculation has been mounting as to his successor. Would it be an insider, a woman or, perish the thought, a southerner? The Bradford-based retailer remains tight-lipped but is now understood to have drawn up a shortlist of five candidates for the job with a view to announcing a winner by its AGM on May 25 -- though some analysts suspect the decision will be delayed.

A source says that it has bowed to pressure from non-execs and shareholders and has strongly hinted that internal candidates have been excluded from that shortlist. It has also reportedly said that although it is keen to appoint someone from a retail background, it needn't be in grocery.

We have pulled together a list of ten runners and riders - including the internal candidates just to cover our bases - and asked spread betting firm Cantor Index to give us the odds (see right).

The big money is on Colin Holmes, Tesco's convenience CEO, with Richard Brasher, Tesco's commercial and trading director, not far behind.

Several analysts also believe there should be shorter odds on Ian McLeod, Halfords' chief executive, and point to his previous track record at Asda. They add that he would fit the profile of someone currently in a retail rather than grocery-specific role.

Though not on our list, it might also be worth putting an outside bet on Allan Leighton or Archie Norman, says Oriel Securities' Jonathan Pritchard. "Outsiders. I wouldn't rule them out, but I wouldn't put their odds any shorter than 40/1 either."

Whoever takes on the role will have a hefty job on their hands. Last month, Morrisons announced a record loss of £312.9m to January 29 as a result of Safeway integration costs. Pre-tax profits before exceptionals fell from £332.2m to £61.5m.

The new chief executive will also face the challenge of trying to eke out the £90m improvement in margins targeted in Stott's optimisation plan - not to mention getting on with Sir Ken himself.

Pritchard says: "It's a massive ask, but there's huge potential. The forecasts are at a level where it's going to be difficult for the company to disappoint.

"If the new CEO can talk coherently about sales and get the sales line moving again, there's massive potential for dramatic upward revisions to forecasts and therefore share price performance."

One thing is for certain, says Cantor's David Buik, Morrisons' recovery won't really get under way until the new chief is appointed. "It is unreasonable to expect the share price to rally to the cause until strong management appointments have been implemented," he says. "The general consensus is that it's time for change."

9/4 fav: Colin Holmes
Tesco's convenience chief executive is highly regarded but has little chance of getting the top job at Tesco, so could be a prime candidate to make the leap from divisional head to main man elsewhere. C antor says: "He has been pulling on the bridle and champing at the bit for an opportunity to run his own shop."

5/1: Mike Coupe
Currently trading director at Sainsbury, the former Iceland MD and Big Food Group director is a possibility, but is still making his mark at Sainsbury. C antor says: "Will need more experience under Justin King to qualify to run a group, after previously running in handicap company"

4/1: Richard Baker
The Boots CEO could be a contender but is considered unlikely to leave now that the retailer is turning the corner. Cantor says: "He has made a great fist of running a dispirited operation. May want to see the merger with Alliance Unichem through. But gets the trip with vast experience at Asda." 

5/1 Angela Spindler
The George global managing director was in the running with Andy Bond for Asda's top job but is thought to be happy to stay where she is. Cantor says: "Impeccable credentials. Runs her best race in large fields and may not be comfortable as top dog in a smaller outfit."

5/2: Richard Brasher
The Tesco commercial and trading director has been a high flyer since joining from RHM in 1986. Appointed to the board in 2004. A definite contender. Cantor says: "Brasher is a man with fantastic credentials, vying for favouritism with Colin Holmes. Again, waiting for Godot!"

7/2: Kate Swann
The WH Smith group CEO has a good track record and is well respected, but is seen by some as having plenty on her plate where she is. cantor says: "Since leaving Argos, has done a great job downsizing WH Smith while making it profitable. Deserves a chance in higher company. The 'springer' in the market."

6/1: Mark Gunter
Morrisons' store operations director is definitely a rising star in the Morrisons firmament, but as an internal candidate he could well have been ruled out, according to analysts. The competition may too stiff in any case. cantor says: "He deserves his chance - but this just may be a bridge too far."

9/2: Marie Melnyk
The Morrisons MD, in charge of trading and marketing, is highly regarded, but thought to lack the ambition to be chief. As an insider, may be out of the running. cantor says:: "A great favourite with the family and Stott, but the appointment requires outside innovation. Even so, Melnyk must not be underrated."

8/1: Ian McLeod
As an outsider with former grocery experience at Asda, the current CEO of Halfords would fit the bill perfectly, some sources believe - Pritchard gives him odds of 3/1 favourite. He could well be up for running a higher-profile business. cantor says: "A good man. However, the job is probably not finished at Halfords."

8/1: Tony DeNunzio
The chairman of Vendex (Holland) was seen as a solid but unspectacular performer at Asda. And he though to have a lot at stake equity-wise in Vendex. cantor says: "He gave a good account of himself while he was running Asda, before moving on to Vendex. Might not be that motivated for the challenge."