Ellis Short faces the unpalatable problem of leading a club out of utter disarray – and there’s a £100million penalty if he can’t find a solution.
A head coach gone, a director of football on the brink, a team five points adrift of safety and fans who are as fed-up by a repeat of this farcical situation, as they are angry.
Sheer statistics are a damning indictment of the leadership of this club, predominantly since the departure of Niall Quinn
What a mess.
The worry is that this could just be the beginning of a slippery slope that is even steeper than the descent Sunderland have been on over the last four years.
Sheer statistics are a damning indictment of the leadership of this club, predominantly since the departure of Niall Quinn.
Sunderland are on the lookout for a sixth manager in four years. Ludicrously, Steve Bruce was the last Black Cats boss to complete a full season.
Players and managers have come and gone, yet Sunderland have continued to struggle while somehow maintaining their Premier League existence. That says something.
Supporters are looking more closely at the bigger reasons behind Sunderland’s state of turmoil and rightly so.
If / when Lee Congerton goes, what does Short do next?
Short was so keen on the director of football system, as it gave Sunderland a ‘footballing’ presence in their hierarchy, plus a continuity in terms of signings, scouting and youth development.
Without Congerton, who will make the decision over the next chap brave enough to attempt to reverse this club’s decline?
Congerton has not been perfect, even if he proved to be a vast improvement on his predecessor.
His transfer record has been mixed (£10m spent on Jack Rodwell), Sunderland’s knack of promoting home-grown talent hasn’t improved and neither have they managed to unearth any hidden gems in the market as some of their Premier League peers have the knack of doing.
But he has also produced some master-strokes in the market.
Swapping Jermain Defoe for Jozy Altidore left both Gus Poyet and Advocaat confused over how to fit the England striker into the team, yet Congerton effectively swapped a striker who scores goals for one who doesn’t and for no extra cost.
It wasn’t Congerton’s fault that neither manager has really found an effective solution to get the most out of Defoe.
Likewise, with Yann M’Vila - the pick of Sunderland’s summer signings - Congerton managed to strike a deal where the overwhelming majority of his wages are still being picked up by parent club Ruben Kazan.
Sunderland haven’t even paid a loan fee for M’Vila, who again on Saturday, was the conductor of a eye-openingly harmonious first half display and then kept the midfield together after the Black Cats had been reduced to 10 men.
Certainly, unlike Poyet, there was no tension between Advocaat and Congerton.
Advocaat liked the balance of power and the delegation of duties to Congerton, and realised that his colleague was having to work with a thankless budget, by Premier League standards anyway.
Does Short persist with the director of football system now?
Or does he go back to that ‘old-fashioned’ system of an orthodox manager in the mould of a man like Sam Allardyce?
The loss of the director of football undoubtedly removes one of the biggest barriers towards appointing Allardyce, whose record of keeping clubs in the top flight will surely be a hugely attractive factor for Short.
Whoever takes charge of the team is facing some challenge, although there is arguably more to work with than a couple of years ago when Gus Poyet faced a similar situation.
Individually, with the likes of M’Vila, Jeremain Lens, Ola Toivonen and Fabio Borini, Sunderland’s squad is arguably better than it has been over the last two or three years.
Sunderland certainly showed their capabilities in the opening 45 minutes against West Ham, which was as good a performance witnessed by the Black Cats in a long, long time.
There was surely an element of putting in a display for Advocaat, as Sunderland were committed, hungry and full of ideas.
Every player in red and white wanted the ball - finding space, pressing, keeping possession and playing with a high tempo.
That latter asset, in particular, HAS to be key for Advocaat’s successor.
The only downside was that Sunderland didn’t put the game to bed and allowed West Ham to claw back the deficit, with Borini the prime culprit for the missed opportunities.
The defence remains a major concern too after another two goals conceded, but if Advocaat’s successor can shore up at the back, then there are pieces of a jigsaw to work with.
The concern is whether Sunderland can do that on a consistent basis.
Sunderland didn’t perform like this at Leicester or Bournemouth, in pivotal encounters against teams expected to be in or around them in the bottom half.
That’s perhaps what comes of a team used to being inconsistent and used to losing.
How does a new manager impose his new ideas without a pre-season too?
It’s just as big a challenge as the one faced by Poyet two years ago and look how tough it was for the Uruguayan to mastermind the Great Escape.
It’s going to be no easier this season to keep this club in the Premier League.