Chris Young: Sunderland, Newcastle and Villa are facing relegation for a reason
If status quo prevails in the relegation dogfight, then the Premier League era will have never seen three such big-hitting clubs suffer the drop in the same season.
In 2002-03, Sunderland, West Ham and West Brom all went down, while Leicester, Leeds and Wolves were among the dead-men 12 months later, yet neither of those trio genuinely compare to the potential class of 2016.
Sunderland, Newcastle and Aston Villa boast combined home attendances in excess of 120,000, but all are contemplating the possibility of trips to Burton Albion next season.
Well, in Villa’s case, it’s already a painful reality at a club which might take years to unpick the mess and then begin the slow process of rebuilding.
But there are startlingly common threads at the Stadium of Light, St James’s Park and Villa Park, over why three such well-supported outfits are heading towards the Championship.
The leadership at all three has been glaringly weak, with little evident strategy or direction.
There has been so much focus on banking the riches of the Premier League that little consideration has been actually given over how to achieve that objective year after year.
It’s why the appointment of Sunderland’s next chief executive is so key.
All three clubs have been avid proponents of the managerial merry-go-round - three in the last two years at Sunderland, four at Newcastle and Villa now on the look-out for a fourth.
And most damningly of all, the trio’s recruitment over recent seasons has by and large been awful (at least until Sam Allardyce’s first window in January).
There have been odd exceptions - at Sunderland, notably Jermain Defoe, Younes Kaboul and Yann M’Vila - but all three clubs find themselves in such a situation because of a long-term deterioration of their playing squads.
Over three or four years, the stand-out figures have departed, while sub-standard replacements have been drafted in, with huge transfer fees and wages regularly squandered along the way.
The Magpies have splashed out £80m this season, yet how much of that was spent wisely?
When there is so much money floating around in the coffers of ALL Premier League clubs these days, poor recruitment has dire consequences and if / when, the trio go down, they all have a long-term history of bad buys.
Perversely in Sunderland’s case, Allardyce is just beginning to put things right.
Unlike Newcastle who went for availability rather than suitability in January, Allardyce addressed the spine of Sunderland’s side and it sparked an immediate cohesion, despite the upturn in performances failing to correspond with victories.
Despite the four-point gulf with fourth bottom Norwich City, Sunderland are performing at their most consistent and convincing levels for three or four years.
The pleas of senior players (which privately have been made repeatedly) for an injection of quality into the squad have finally been answered with the captures of Lamine Kone, Jan Kirchhoff and Wahbi Khazri.
The bitter irony will be if this is the year that Sunderland are relegated, when they’ve lurched, crawled or miraculously avoided the drop by a whisker in each of the previous three years.
Then, Allardyce - presuming he stays at the club - would face a desperate battle to prevent the foundations he has laid from sinking.
If Sunderland go down, then he will have to start all over again, with the likes of Jermain Defoe, Fabio Borini, Yann M’Vila and potentially the three January signings all leaving the Stadium of Light.
Admittedly, Sunderland would probably be in a better position for a promotion challenge than either Newcastle or Villa.
They have the best possible manager to lead the club in the Championship, have 40 per cent wage cuts built into the contracts of all first-team players and would have a core of players to build the team around - the likes of Duncan Watmore, Jordan Pickford, Jack Rodwell etc.
But it will still set Sunderland back several years if they had to build a team for a promotion push and then if that was successful, build another one for the Premier League.
The Black Cats have had plenty of warnings though if they do go down.
Like Villa and Newcastle, this is a situation that has been years in the making.