The Championship is a long, tough slog with 46 regulation matches packed into a gruelling nine-month campaign.
The second tier often sees sides go through spells of varying form with both ends of the table in a seemingly constant state of flux, with the leadership and relegation slots regularly changing hands.
It is usually a case that teams must take the rough with the smooth, yet for fans of Sunderland there has solely been a constant stream of misery and despair.
Delaying the inevitable
The club’s decade-long stint in the top flight was finally ended last season with a meek acceptance of their fate under David Moyes.
They had forged a reputation of successfully staving off relegation year after year with a late escape. It was the same cycle on repeat.
The club would find itself in grave danger in the latter half of the campaign, they would sack the manager and the new man in the dugout would come in, motivate his players and save their status.
Each of the club’s final six seasons prior to relegation featured a different boss, each with a different set of ideas, style of play and thoughts on which players they wanted in their squad.
Since the beginning of March 2013, the club have had eight permanent managers. Martin O’Neill kept them afloat in 2011/12, it was Paolo Di Canio’s role the following season before Gus Poyet (2014), Dick Advocaat (2015) and Sam Allardyce (2016) all took their turns as being the knight in shining armour before things turned sour.
As a result, the Black Cats lost any real identity or vision either in the medium or long-term. It was all about survival and quite often their main hope was that three sides happened to be worse than them.
It was an outlook riddled with structural problems in the first-team squad mixed with a deterioration of finances, which would begin to unravel with serious consequences.
A chance for redemption
Relegation last season was so inevitable that it was met with more a sigh of resignation rather than any genuine anger or disquiet.
After all, Moyes had essentially told them at the start of the season that relegation would be the outcome. Such a dour outlook clearly rubbed off on not only the fans but the players, who were openly apathetic long before the inevitable was concerned.
There was a brief period of hope, that relegation could invigorate the club. Moyes would go and many expected the majority of the playing staff to go with him. There was an opportunity for a fresh start, for reinvention – much like what happened at Newcastle after their respective relegations in 2009 and 2016.
Yet this did not materialise. The majority of the players were tied down to lucrative, long-term deals and no clubs who were in a position to afford them had any need for a group so limited in ability. 13 of the club’s first team squad from the Premier League remain after two transfer windows.
Despite seemingly sound loan recruitment, despite Simon Grayson and then Chris Coleman being appointed, there has been no upturn in fortunes.
Tuesday night’s 1-0 loss at Bolton means it’s only one win in nine for Sunderland, a run which has included seven defeats.
Their one draw saw them come from three goals down at Bristol City to rescue a point, but even that rare show of resilience was complemented by two own goals as the hosts imploded. Their last nine games has seen them manage only two other goals as the lack of creativity and firepower is all too evident.
They have managed only two wins and 11 points from 16 home league games and their first – a 2-0 victory over Fulham, came two days shy of the club going a full calendar year without a home win. Perhaps more remarkably, that run saw them ahead at the Stadium of Light for a grand total of four minutes.
Their fragility and lack of confidence is alarming and with only 13 league games left, the club are once more left sweating on their status and rumours suggest they could be set to appoint yet another new manager.
That would be their fourth permanent manager in the space of nine months, with the feeling that relegation did not only fail to break the cycle but has hastened it.
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