Another desperate implosion gifts Preston three points and leaves Sunderland looking doomed
Jake Clarke-Salter headed down the tunnel with his shirt over his head, crestfallen.
Here we were again, Sunderland throwing away a narrow game, beaten by their own ineptitude.
Clarke-Salter had seen red minutes after the Black Cats had gifted Preston North End their opening goal with some of the worst marking you will ever see.
They repeated the trick soon after, Callum Robinson heading home at the back post to settle the contest. From gentle promise to predictable incompetence in just 15 minutes.
Another opportunity thrown away. There will not be many more.
Sunderland are heading down, and with more unwanted off-field headlines hitting the club earlier in the day, it is hard to see them bouncing back. Supporters have never been put through anything like this before.
Sunderland had been handed a lifeline before kick-off, with Millwall beating Barnsley 2-0.
Chris Coleman admitted on Friday that he would be watching that result closely and so he knew at kick-off that a long overdue win would put the Black Cats within touching distance of the Tykes.
It was Sunderland who created the first opening of the game, Ovie Ejaria finding Joel Asoro with a fine through ball. Asoro made it to the ball but was denied by Chris Maxwell.
The hosts had reverted to a back five but were fortunate that Lee Camp was alert just moments later when a free ball cut the defence open. Tom Barkhuizen bore down on goal but Camp made a fine block.
It was a tense half that ebbed and flowed, Bryan Oviedo drawing a save from Maxwell when he collected another excellent Ejaria pass.
The Liverpool loanee was Sunderland's heartbeat in the first half, showing for the ball and driving the team forward.
Preston's threat came predominantly from set-plays, defenders Ben Davies and Paul Huntington both heading just over before the break.
A slow start to the second period almost put Sunderland behind, Callum Robinson just unable to connect with Josh Earl's low cross from the left-flank.
The lesson was not learnt, with Preston taking just minutes to capitalise. A free-kick was clipped to the back post, where Joel Asoro had let Sean Maguire run off his shoulder. The Irishman stooped to convert with ease and leave Sunderland yet again facing an uphill battle.
It should have been two almost instantly, Barkhuizen inexplicably unable to connect with a cross as he ran free into the six-yard box.
Sunderland were on the ropes, and just as at QPR, a narrow game at the break turned completely against them within fifteen minutes. This time it was Clarke-Salter who saw red, caught on the ball and hauling back the onrushing Alan Browne.
He had been booked in the first half for a similar offence.
Inevitably, Preston made it two soon after, a cross from Barkuizen to the back post headed home by the completely unmarked Robinson.
Kazenga LuaLua almost beat Maxwell with a free-kick but in truth it was a procession for Preston and their delirious support, with Daniel Johnson seeing a late effort blocked on the line by Oviedo.
On and off the pitch, Sunderland have serious soul-searching to do.
Sunderland XI: Camp; Matthews, Kone, O'Shea, Clarke-Salter, Oviedo; Cattermole, Ejaria (McNair, 75) , Honeyman (LuaLua,68); Maja (Fletcher, 63), Asoro
Subs: Stryjek, McManaman, McGeady, Robson
Preston XI: Maxwell; Fisher, Huntington, Davies, Earl; Browne, Pearson; Barkhuizen (Bodin, 85), Gallagher (Johnson,71), Robinson (Harrop, 85); Maguire
Subs: Hudson, Woods, Clarke, Moult
Bookings: Earl, 80
Red Card: Clarke-Salter, 61