David Moyes was handed a much-needed boost with the return of influential midfielder Lee Cattermole but even his presence couldn’t prevent the 20th league defeat of the season.
Defeat to Leicester City left the Black Cats marooned with even the most optimistic of fans coming to terms with the likelihood of playing Championship football next season.
Cattermole, who made his first start since September following surgery on his hip cartilage, admits the situation looks bleak but has vowed to fight to the death.
And he has urged his Sunderland teammates to show pride and prove to the club’s long-suffering supporter’s how much they care ahead of Sunday’s visit of Manchester United.
Reflecting on the task facing Sunderland, Cattermole, 29, said: “If you look at it, it looks tough - very tough.
“But you don’t become a footballer by shying away from things. Everyone has got to have that drive - or you hope they have.
“Certainly you know what you’ll be getting from the likes of myself. I’m excited to be back.
“We need to look forward to Sunday now and show our supporters how much we care about the position we are in.
“We have to show some pride, stand up and find out what we are all about.”
Long-serving Cattermole hadn’t played since the home defeat to Crystal Palace at the end of September but he is eager to play his part between now and May.
Cattermole said: “I felt good and if it had stayed 0-0, I don’t think the manager would have taken me off.
“I said to him at half-time that I felt fine, and I have felt great for the last couple of weeks.
“I need games, I need fitness, and it’s obviously tough coming back in the position we are in, but I’ll rise to it,
“I’ll look forward to it, and give my best.”
Cattermole played 73 minutes on his return which ended in a 2-0 defeat after second half goals from sub Islam Slimani and Jamie Vardy compounded a difficult few days for the club.
Sunderland were proving more than a match for the Champions until they gifted away the lead, Slimani beating Lamine Kone in the air too easily after Sunderland failed to stop the cross.
“We were right in the game until the first goal, it was very soft. That can’t happen at any stage of the season but especially the situation we are in,” added a visibly frustrated Cattermole.
“It is not good enough, that can’t happen when we have worked as hard as we had. But we can’t make any excuses.
“I thought we were playing well away at the champions but it is small margins; concede the goal and then we hit the post and they add a second. We have to learn from it.”