Phil Smith's SAFC Analysis: Relegation coming '“ and it's a painful slip into the abyss for Sunderland

2002/03. 2005/06. 2016/17.

Monday, 10th April 2017, 12:00 pm
Updated Tuesday, 9th May 2017, 7:31 pm
Jordan Pickford and Bryan Oviedo combine to thwart Manchester United captain Marouane Fellaini. Picture by Frank Reid

It may not be mathematically decided, but this latest instalment underlined what we have known for some time.

Sunderland will be relegated, and it will not be in a blaze of glory, a narrow, defiant relegation. They will limp towards the line, and the end of the season will feel merciful.

It may be a relegation that yields more points than the torrid campaigns under Howard Wilkinson and Mick McCarthy, but it will be remembered in the same way.

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By the end, a futile exercise.

Sunderland were not helped by a harsh red card, but nor did they offer much before then to suggest that an end to the goalscoring woes was on the horizon.

It is painful viewing. Pedestrian. They were not blown away, they have rarely been this season.

Perhaps even more damningly, however, they were beaten by a side who barely had to get into their stride. Manchester United were often too slow to move the ball, made poor decisions in the final third, spurned chances, and yet cantered home to a 3-0 win.

As in those previous relegation campaigns, it has simply been too easy to beat Sunderland.

Neither Wilkinson nor McCarthy were able to survive those seasons, but this time all the indications still point to David Moyes leading Sunderland into the Championship.

It will create an uneasy dynamic, a fast start will be a must.

This was another day when the atmosphere did not not turn toxic, but that should be read as any sort of endorsement of recent performances or any great confidence in the current regime. The flat feeling in the Stadium reflected a sense of helplessness, the tortorous recognition of a side simply not good enough.

The only hope is that the summer allows for a turnover in the squad, a new breed of players ready for the scrap of the Championship, ones the manager will be able to get regular performances out of.

David Moyes is not getting anything from the majority of this current crop, making it difficult to present a persuasive case that future seasons will be better.

Lamine Kone again highlighted the decline from this time last season, an unconvincing performance, not getting tight enough for either goal, often caught out of position, not tracking back quickly enough from attacking corners.

Fabio Borini did not make a great impression from the bench, Wahbi Khazri did not even get a kick.

The return of Victor Anichebe offered some encouragement, when he got the ball in the right areas the Manchester United defenders could not live with his physicality. That was even though he is far from full fitness.

When he is on song, Sunderland seem to have a way of playing, if not quite a convincing identity then at least some tenacity.

What does it say, however, that they are reliant on a player who has missed such an enormous amount of football in recent seasons? A Premier League team should be reliant on a target man to give them a way of playing.

Ellis Short was in the stands for the second home game in a row, so he will be fully aware of the scale of the problems at the club.

When he took over the club, the relegations of Wilkinson and McCarthy were supposed to become things of the past, sad footnotes to a brighter and long-term Premier League future.

Millions upon millions of pounds later, Sunderland have been left one of their most one-paced, least creative sides in memory.

Defeats to Manchester United are not inherently any-thing to be ashamed of, particularly when the game was turned by a moment of individual brilliance from Zlatan.

Yet there is also no escaping that this was another game that offered no indication that better days are indeed around the corner.

The end of the season cannot come quickly enough.

That is an all-too-familiar feeling.