The Tees-Wear derby is possibly the least anticipated in recent memory, both sides inching towards the drop with little more than a whimper.
So where has it all gone wrong, and are there common themes?
Phil Smith caught up with Gazette Boro writer Jonathon Taylor to dissect a disastrous season...
A disastrous January for both teams, who watched their rivals spend big and pull away...
Phil Smith: Sunderland had their targets but couldn’t attract them. Those who did come in not only failed to address the long-term deficiencies in pace and creativity, but actually deepened them to an extent.
They have been beyond blunt in 2017, tepid and one-dimensional. Fans are yearning for a summer overhaul.
Jonathon Taylor: Boro spent £15.5m in January but saw many of their top targets fall by the wayside - to the frustration of then-boss Aitor Karanka.
The three additions – Rudy Gestede, Patrick Bamford and Adlene Guedioura – have made a combined three league starts, and will possible feel they haven’t been given a fair crack of the whip.
But the fact remains – Boro’s winter business failed to give the side the lift they needed to stay clear of the clutches of relegation.
Clubs are always criticised for sacking managers, but Boro and Sunderland went for patience and it hasn’t necessarily worked out...
PS: David Moyes inherited a difficult situation and little time in the transfer market, but Marco Silva’s genius at Hull has understandably left much of the Black Cats faithful saying, why not us?
Ultimately Moyes stays because the club want to have a real run at the summer transfer market, rather than have to bend again to a new manager’s direction at short notice.
Clearly, Moyes has been fortunate to survive this galling season.
JT: To be honest, purely on results, it’s hard to see how Boro could have parted company with Aitor Karanka any sooner. After the defeat to Stoke, perhaps – yet that was still the Spaniard’s last league game in charge.
Boro hadn’t found themselves in the relegation zone until that point, and up until January, the club was probably perfectly on course.
Yet the speed of the season’s unravelling in 2017 is staggering. After Karanka left, Boro had the opportunity to stick or twist – by either giving the job to Steve Agnew or making an external appointment.
They went with the former, hoping Karanka’s exit would release the players from their so-called shackles – yet the results have not changed.
Much is said about the North East’s struggles to attract players...
PS: There’s little doubt that Sunderland struggle to attract talent, and location is the excuse most often.
It would certainly be a factor, but sometimes you suspect that the endless turnover and underachievement is as much to blame when it comes to players going elsewhere.
David Moyes wants to bring in British players who understand the North East to try and break the cycle.
It is a big challenge for the North East going forward but success and stability are crucial to attracting motivated foreign talent.
JT: Boro made 12 signings in the summer including Victor Valdes & Alvaro Negredo, so you’d be hard-pushed to say the Teessiders struggled to get their top targets in the summer.
But the big failure of the season may well be Boro’s recruitment in January. Jese Rodriguez, Robert Snodgrass and Bojan all fell through the cracks, but it’s only the latter who was a realistic option.
Jese made it clear early on that he wanted to return home to Las Palmas, while Hull didn’t want to sell Snodgrass to a rival.
But there’s no doubt there’s been a power shift to the south, and with Boro and Sunderland set to drop down to the second tier, that challenge of luring top talent to the North-east will only get harder.
Issues at different ends of the pitch...
PS: Sunderland have never recovered from losing Younes Kaboul in the summer.
Not only did he play superbly in the latter half of last season, he was the leader of the defence and a major part in Lamine Kone’s outstanding form.
Kone has been poor this season and alongside him Papy Djilobodji has not convinced.
The latter has not played since January as the Black Cats have again turned to John O’Shea.
At the other end Victor Anichebe has been a big loss through injury, no one other than Jermain Defoe has scored more than three league goals. That tells it’s own story.
JT: Over the course of the season, defending hasn’t been an issue for Boro - they’ve boasted one of the best defences in the league.
But it’s at the other end – in the final third – where Boro have come up desperately short.
There’s a feeling on Teesside that the club are going down ‘without having had a go’, playing with the handbrake on.
That was partly down to Karanka’s defensive-first blueprint, but even since the Spaniard’s exit, it’s been an issue.
The malaise runs far deeper than just the man at the helm. There was much excitement about Alvaro Negredo’s arrival in the summer, yet he’s only scored nine goals – an underachievement for a player of his ability, but not a criticism of him.
He’s had no service, and simply put, Boro haven’t played to his strengths.
A tragedy, too, that two outstanding local talents will probably move on in the summer...
PS: Pickford, I suspect like Gibson, is Sunderland’s prize asset and so will almost certainly be sold to bolster what will come in through parachute payments.
It truly will be heartbreaking, Pickford has it all and is happy in the North East, and had the potential to reach iconic territory had he been able to stay for a few years longer. This is the price of failure.
JT: Ben Gibson has been the shining star of an otherwise bleak season. At the beginning of the campaign, many felt Daniel Ayala would be the centre-back who would adapt to Premier League life like a duck to water, but it’s Gibson who’s done just that.
At 24, he’s been the leader throughout – and fully deserved his England call-up. He has a bright future – but if Boro do fall down the trapdoor, it’s going to be a real struggle firstly to keep him, and secondly to replace him.
Gibson lives and breathes Boro, he bleeds Boro - yet he’s had a taste of the national team and is clearly ambitious.
No fan would begrudge him a move to one of the top-flight’s big boys, should that happen this summer.
At Sunderland, there is almost a yearning for a fresh start in the Championship. But Boro know how tough that league has become...
PS: You can understand why Sunderland fans find the drop appealing, in a way. New away days, more wins, new faces, a chance for renewal.
Sunderland have been dreadful this season and so a fresh start is truly needed. The only concern is that the league has become much tougher in the last 10 years, mainly due to an influx of new ideas, teams playing better football, and the Premier League millions filtering down through parachute payments.
It will not be easy but then maybe that purpose and challenge is what everyone needs.
JT: Boro are no strangers to the Championship - they were stuck in that football purgatory for seven years following their relegation in 2008/09.
But that won’t make their task to bounce straight back, should they go down, any easier.
It’s a 46-game slog, and forget about football for a second, it’s a real test of your mental toughness.
Good sides full of experienced Premier League players have struggled to get out of it.
Boro will perhaps look at Burnley – who dropped out of the top league and returned stronger the next season – for inspiration.
But there’s no doubt that a huge rebuilding job will happen on Teesside. Boro made 12 signings in preparation for the Premier League, and you’d expect that level of movement again this summer.