It looked like they would make it interesting for a little while longer.
Three points were within Sunderland's grasp and other results were by and large going their way.
Typically, however, they were the architects of their own downfall.
They threw it away and any analysis of this relegation must start with a group of players, who have significant reputations from playing at the top level, yet have proved incapable of executing the basics over and over again.
All know, however, that performances on the pitch have been just one element of a wider picture.
Two questions, the answers to which largely tell the story of Sunderland’s relegation.
Firstly, how many signings made since the club’s Championship status was confirmed can be considered an emphatic success?
Secondly, what has been the team’s pattern of play been this season? What have they been trying to achieve as a unit?
No answer to that has ever been clear.
Recruitment was one of the driving factors behind Sunderland’s steady Premier League demise and the solutions have not been found.
The club have continued to rely on injury-prone players, or those who have been out of the picture at their previous clubs for a prolonged period.
It was never going to be a recipe for success.
Three goalkeepers were signed, and yet Saturday marked the seventh time this season there has been a change in that department.
Of course, the climate for such unimaginative, panic-stricken recruitment has been set by Ellis Short and this is his relegation.
In January, the chance to salvage something from the campaign was missed.
We may never know whether that was because Short truly lost interest in the team’s affairs, or whether it was because he still genuinely believed that this team was good enough to pull away.
Either way, it raises serious questions about the direction of the club.
On paper, this squad perhaps should have been good enough to survive, but not on the pitch.
Defensively they have been a shambles for the vast majority of the campaign and individual errors have cost them time and time again.
Of course, that means responsibility lies too with the managers who have overseen this wretched campaign.
Simon Grayson never came close to building a resilient unit and after a promising start, a woeful run at the start of the year put Chris Coleman’s side back in a rut.
He has begin to make positive inroads in recent weeks and such is the scale of the malaise at the club, everything possible needs to be done to allow Coleman to start again and build his own team.
That recruitment will be key.
Now two seasons into Martin Bain’s tenure, Sunderland seem to be no closer to finding a successful model for scouting and recruiting players.
The financial aspect of his work is obvious but on the football side, there has been stark regression under his watch.
A takeover of the club, fresh ideas and fresh leadership, is essential.
If it is not forthcoming, then Ellis Short must allow Coleman the scope to transform an unbalanced squad for the better.
Otherwise, the same mistakes will continue to be made and this catastrophic fall from grace will not be halted.
After the last relegation, a statement was released in which Short vowed to share his plans for the club going forward. That never happened, and few will expect it to anytime soon.
Sunderland are going nowhere under his ownership.
The only hope is that this swift end to their Championship stay can further grease the wheels of any potential changing of the guard.